Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why to Read?

According to my parents, I was not a child that took to reading. They tried a lot of tactics to get me interested in books, before finally finding some success with comic books. Even then, I have remained a slow reader, who occasionally struggles with word order and spellings. However, what I have lacked in natural speed, I have made up for with determination, and now I list reading as my favoured pastime.

Lately though, I have been dissatisfied with my reading. Too often, I think, I have picked up books because they just happened to be in front of me, or because, in my laziness, I fell back upon some comfortable genre, instead of choosing my books with careful intelligence.  Lately, I have found no challenge in the books I’ve read.

I had been having these thoughts a lot as last year came to an end. Then, by happenstance, I found myself in a small charity bookshop in my wife’s hometown. Upon the shelf, I saw a small red volume entitled Sesame and Lillies by John Ruskin. I knew of Ruskin more by reputation than acquaintance, having read only a single lecture by him, but I find him an intriguing figure. He spoke a lot about art and its relationship to society.

One of the interesting things about buying really old books is that they do not have blurbs. This book was old enough that it contained no information at all on when it was printed. So, knowing nothing but the author, I turned over £1 to the man at the counter and took my new book home. 

It is by sheer coincidence that the first two lectures (of the three in the book) are about ‘what to read’. In truth, that topic is just a launching point to wander over a variety of ideas, but it still struck me as a very strange coincidence.

At the same time I had been considering my reading, I had also been considering starting a ‘Commonplace Book’, that is my own collection of wisdom that I have gleaned from books. So, I began my commonplace book with some quotes I found in Ruskin. I will share a couple here, on the subject of reading:

No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armoury, or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store.

That to use books rightly, was to go to them for help: to appeal to them, when our knowledge and power of thought failed; to be led by them into the wider sight, purer conception than our own and receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinion.

So, my goal for this year is to challenge myself with my reading, to actively seek out books that contain wisdom or that will challenge my thinking. I will still read science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction, but only if I have strong reason to believe those works to be above average (why bother reading the average?). We shall see how I get on.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Empire Still Reigns

I have had a very off-and-on relationship with Games Workshop throughout my life. At times they have been my favourite games company, at other times their business decisions have driven me to despair. At the moment, they seem to be going through a bit of a 'renaissance', and are even, once again, producing a few Middle-Earth miniatures, which forms my main interest in their products these days.

Recently, on a trip to Nottingham with my friend and colleague, Phil, we swung by Warhammer World, the part of GW's corporate headquarters that is open to the public. I've got to say it, I had a great time. There is a huge shop, a huge games room, a nice pub, and an exhibition hall. I was sceptical that a miniature exhibition could really be worth the £7.50 admission charge, but it was fantastic! (If rather lacking in LOTR models!)

Phil did a full write-up of the exhibition on his blog, complete with some photos of some of the cooler displays. You can see it here.

Really, if you are a sci-fi/fantasy miniatures fan, and you get the chance - go.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Planar Storm: A New Frostgrave Scenario

I just received the new issue of Miniature Wargames which includes my new Frostgrave scenario, 'Planar Storm'. This scenario was written to go along with the ones found in Forgotten Pacts, and features a new type of barbarian adversary, 'The Tainted'.

Miniature Wargames 405 is available in either print or ebook editions.

I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the issue, but it appears to contain some interesting stuff, such as a solo scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings by Conrad Kinch, an article from the Andy Copestake who runs Old Glory UK on what influences him as a gamer, and a full set of pike and shot rules by Arthur Harman.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Clansman of Lamedon

Although my new, ultra-bright painting set-up has really made a difference to my vision, it unfortunately hasn't created any time to actually pick up a paint brush. Still, sometime in the past few weeks I managed to finish one figure, this 'Clansman of Lamedon' from Games Workshop's The Lord of the Rings line. It's a bit of a curious figure. While I love the sculpting and the pose, it doesn't fit that well into my personal vision of Middle-Earth. Although Lamedon is one of the provinces of Gondor mentioned by Tolkien, he doesn't say that much about it. I don't think there is any reason beyond simple geography to assume they fight and dress like Scottish Highlanders. Still, designers have to design something, and when they have little-to-nothing to go on, they must draw upon other sources.

Before I started painting this figure, I spent a couple of days agonising over what tartan to paint his kilt, as every other version I had seen painted had some form of tartan. Then, I said, 'heck with it', and decided to forgo the whole idea of a tartan, or highlanders. I'd just paint it in colours I liked.

Well, I think the result is pretty striking. The heavy armour, the skirt, and the grieves, combined with my paint job makes the figure look more like an ancient Greek than a Scot; which is fine by me. The only aspect of the figure I wasn't happy with was the face. It just wasn't working for me, so I painted a beard on it. Now the figure reminds me a bit of Armand Assante in his roles as Odysseus and Alan Breck Stewart (in perhaps the best television version of Kidnapped!).

The figure came in a pack of three, so now I have to decide whether to paint them all in this colour scheme, or to give each one a unique dress.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago (2017)

Wind Warden by Dmitry & Kate Burmak. (c) Osprey Games
There is big news for the world of Frostgrave in the second half of 2017. Most people already know about the two expansions: The Frostgrave Folio and Ulterior Motives. Now, rumour is starting to spread about a new game called Frostgrave:Ghost Archipelago. That’s right, not an expansion, a new game. (You can read the official blurb by following the link, but the 'cover' shown there is just a place holder).

Back in the early days of Frostgrave (all of two years ago), my editor (hi, Phil!) asked me how I might want to expand the game, suggesting that I might use the same rules, but set the game in an different environment – such as the Sandgrave and Junglegrave that I have seen jokingly used by some players. Initially, I wasn’t that keen on the idea, figuring it would just be new scenarios and monsters, both of which I could do just as well, if not better, in the Frozen City.

As it has turned out, the game sold well enough that I was able to do several expansions set in the Frozen City that have included loads of new scenarios and monsters, along with other material. However, I never completely forgot about the idea of a new setting.

Then one day, while I was washing the dishes, everything just came together in my head. I realized, that changing the setting wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to expand the world of Frostgrave further, and, more importantly, give players a new and different gaming experience. Suddenly, I was no longer thinking of an expansion; I was thinking about a new game with familiar mechanics.

I always knew that if I used a new setting, it must be one that combined pulp and pirates, a setting that allowed me to bring my love for Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert E. Howard together on the tabletop. Then, the Ghost Archipelago appeared in my thoughts, just the way it reappears every few centuries in the Southern Ocean in the world of Frostgrave. A dense maze of shifting islands, the Ghost Archipelago is covered in the ruins of lost civilizations that are hidden deep in the jungles and rocky mountains. More than one intelligent race calls these islands home, and scores of deadly animals hunt in the swamps and forests.

So, I had my setting, but I still had two major questions that need answering. Why would anyone go adventuring in such a deadly place, and what kind of characters would the game focus on. I knew that if I wanted to make the game distinct from Frostgrave, I would have to push spellcasters down to a supporting roll, but what would take their place? It would need to be some kind of equally powerful group to capture the limelight!

Thus were born the ‘Heritors’. Here’s a little bit about them from a draft of the book:

Over two hundred years ago, the last time the Ghost Archipelago appeared, a group of adventurers discovered a pool of crystal clear water somewhere in the labyrinthine depths of the Lost Isles. Everyone who drank from that pool was filled with a mystical energy, a power they could call upon to perform superhuman feats. After these adventurers returned, they all became legends in their own time. Some became great heroes, others notorious villains. Ironically, despite their incredible strength, speed, toughness, and other superhuman abilities, nearly all of them eventually died violent deaths.
            Before their deaths, however, most of the adventurers who drank from the Crystal Pool sired offspring. Their children inherited many of their parent’s abilities, as did their children’s children, and so on. These descendents became known as ‘Heritors’ for they had inherited some of the power of the Crystal Pool. Yet, with each passing generation, the abilities of the Heritors became slightly less, and every time they used their mystical abilities they suffered from a pain known as ‘Blood Burn’.
            Today, most Heritors are nine or ten generations removed from their ancestor that drank from the Crystal Pool. While the abilities that they inherited still set them apart from the general population, those abilities have grown unreliable, and the pain that accompanies their usage quickly grows unbearable. Thus most Heritors use them sparingly and only in short bursts when they are required.
            No one knows how many Heritors there are in the world, but the number is probably in the high hundreds if not the low thousands. A few are well known warriors, but most choose to keep their abilities hidden. Regardless of where they are, or how they choose to use their abilities, all of them felt a great tug when the Ghost Archipelago returned. The Crystal Pool calls to them, tempting them to come and drink from its waters and gain the powers that once belonged to their ancestors. Many have so far been able to resist this call, but many more are already making their way to the Southern Ocean.

So, there you have the basic premise of the game. There is a lot more to it obviously, and over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing more.

The best news, I think, is that all of the major players behind Frostgrave: FantasyWargames in the Frozen City have returned to work on this game with me: my editor Phil Smith; Dmitry Burmak, who provided all of the gorgeous artwork, this time accompanied by his equally talented wife, Kate; Nick and the gang from North Star are once again working with Osprey Games on a range of miniatures, Kev Dallimore will be supplying his painting and photography skills, Stewart Larkin will be leading the layout and design work. There is no doubt it will be a beautiful book, so there is plenty of pressure on me to make sure it is a good game! 

I'll share more when I can!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Barrel-rider

In my last painting post, I mentioned the trouble I was having with my eyes when it came to painting miniatures. While I still need to look into reading glasses, I have made some good progress with my new 'super light' in place. In fact, I decided to challenge myself and paint one of the smallest, most finely detailed miniatures in the Games Workshop Middle-earth range: Bilbo on a barrel. [For some reason the blog is displaying the image at slightly lower resolution. Click on the image for a clearer shot.]

Of all the thousands (yes, I'm pretty sure its thousands) of miniatures I have painted, this has to be one of my favourites. It's just a perfect.

It's probably also one of the most useless wargaming miniatures ever sculpted, which for me just increases its charm. In fact, I liked it so much, I've decided to go ahead and paint all of the dwarves that came in set as well. Honestly, I think the scene in the movie is ludicrous, overdone, and generally a missed opportunity, but the miniatures look good!

While we are on the subject of Bilbo the barrel-rider, I think Tolkien's own painting of the scene is one of my favourite pieces of his artwork. There is just one thing about it that has always given me pause. In the painting, Bilbo is very clearly wearing shoes! (or boots). How did Tolkien come to forget such a central fact about his own creation?

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One

I won't give a full review as there are plenty online, and it is very hard to talk about Star Wars: Rogue One without spoilers. I will just say that it has a lot of good points and a few bad ones, but, in the end, it just isn't what I want from a Star Wars movie. Others mileage will certainly vary.

Also, see my thoughts on Prequels in General.