Monday, 22 September 2014

Dwarf Rangers

A trio of Dwarf Rangers that I painted up this weekend. 

I think these little plastic figures are some of my favourite models in The Lord of the Rings line. There is just something very Tolkienesque about them. I have heard some people claim that they are supposed to represent Thorin's company (before the new Hobbit movie and before Games Workshop technically had the rights to depict those characters), but I can't see any specific evidence to back such a statement. Regardless, they are some great miniatures.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Ponderings on The Pledge

I’ve only been on The Pledge for the last month and a half, but already I’ve seen a shift in my thinking about the ‘cost’ of miniatures. For most of my life, the only real limiting factor to buying miniatures has been the price. When I was young, that was enough to stop my miniature buying from ever getting out of hand; however, as I have gotten older and made a bit more money, this became much less of a limiting factor. As a hobby, miniatures are relatively inexpensive and it is easy enough to accumulate huge numbers of them without spending huge amounts of cash. Some might consider that a good thing; I do not.

Over the last forty-five days, I have painted 8 miniatures, and I have bought none. In that time, there have been plenty of miniatures, both new and old, that have tempted me. In most cases, the actual monetary cost of those miniatures was not high, and I would have likely bought them in a moment of excitement (or just as likely, in a moment of boredom). With the pledge, I have another consideration to take into account – each of those figures would cost me two hours.

Two hours is about how long it takes me to paint an average miniature. I don’t begrudge this time; I enjoy it. But now I know that every miniature I buy means two more hours of painting time before I can buy another one, and that is something that has to be considered carefully. 

Here’s a real life example. Recently, I have been tempted by the new System Scavengers from Pig Iron Productions (one of my favourite one-man miniatures companies). They come in packs of 5 for £10. While I’m not a wealthy man, especially since the birth of my daughter, £10 is not a huge amount, and, if I wanted to spend it, I would feel comfortable doing so. On the other hand, I have only painted 8 figures in the last 45 days. If I buy those five troopers, I’m going to have to find 10 hours of painting time to get back to the same level of miniature buying power… 

I think that is the true power of 'The Pledge'. Not that it fixes a specific limit on miniature buying, but that it forces a re-examination of the full cost of those purchases.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Call of Dungeons & Dragons

Over the last few months there has been a lot of excitement in some parts of the nerdosphere about the release of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Old pros call it 5th Edition (or 5e), but Wizards of the Coast, who are producing the new books, simply call it Dungeons & Dragons without any numerical designation.

Now, I haven’t really played D&D in a couple of decades, but I have watched with interest from the sidelines as various incarnations of the game have come and gone. I grew up with AD&D (1e), thought 2nd edition was terrible, marvelled at the sheer scope and breadth of 3rd edition, and finally mourned when 4th edition wrecked it.

Probably the most interesting point in the history of Dungeons & Dragons came in 2009, right about the time 4th edition was released. It was then that a schism developed among the D&D players. Some carried on to the new edition, but most turned instead to a new game called Pathfinder. In one of the great marketing backfires of all time, WOTC had created a situation where another company was able to come in and essentially repackage Dungeons & Dragons 3e under a different name. That name was Pathfinder, and it quickly rose to become the most popular role-playing game of them all, slowly pushing aside D&D 4e.

I’m sure that’s all pretty confusing to those who didn’t watch it happen. 

What is interesting to me, however, is the number of people I have heard in various blogs and forums who want to return to Dungeons & Dragons. It is not because they have grown dissatisfied with Pathfinder; quite the contrary, people still seem to love the game. Yet, something seems to be calling people home...

Is it really just the name, Dungeons & Dragons? Is it the association with many ill-spent college nights rolling dice and eating pizza? Why do people care if their game is called Pathfinder or D&D? Surely it only matters which game is better?

Why do I, who haven’t thrown rpg dice in anger since D&D books were printed in black and white also feel the call?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Christmas in September!

I have two books coming out this year, and the first one is just about to hit the shelves. That might surprise some people since the book is The Story of Santa Claus. Well, as it turns out, if you want a book to be a part of the Christmas rush, it is best if it is released in September. Before everyone gets up in arms about Christmas books coming out before Halloween (or even the month that includes Halloween), apparently this has more to do with supply chains and such than it does getting the books on shelves this early. Regardless, I think I’m entitled to be excited and to encourage everyone to start their Christmas shopping (extra) early!

I have written books for various reasons, usually for fun or money (or both), but I wrote this one specifically because I wanted to learn more about the subject. I knew a bit about Santa. I could name all of his reindeer. I knew he was originally a bishop named Nicholas and... well, that was about it really. So I set off on an academic journey to figure out the true story of Santa Claus, starting with the tales of St. Nicholas and doing my best to follow his development into the fat, jolly elf of today. On the way, I had to read some heavy texts; I even had to ask my bother-in-law to translate a work from ancient Greek. It was interesting, but difficult.

In the end, I took all that I had learned and tried to write it in a fun, family friendly narrative, that focused on the magical stories that led to our modern interpretation of Santa Claus. It includes the early stories of St. Nicholas’s life, such as his early gift giving, his appointment as a ‘boy bishop’ and his rescue of the three Roman generals. It then shares some of the great stories of his appearances after his death, where he time and again comes to the aid of children. From there it moves through the confusing years of the Reformation, the rise of other strange Christmas spirits such as Krampus, and the different faces of St. Nicholas, including Father Christmas and Sinterklaas. Finally, the book ends in America, where St. Nicholas takes on his modern form, thanks to writers and artists such as Washington Irving, Clement Clark Moore, and Thomas Nast. It’s all true, in its own way.

Throughout the book, I scattered little asides, explaining St. Nicholas’s supposed actions at the Council of Nicaea, his relationship to the Norse god Odin, and the extent to which Coca-Cola actually factors into his story.

It was my hope to bring a little bit of magic and truth back to the character of Santa Claus that I think has been lost in the last hundred years or so. In this, I was greatly aided by Peter Dennis, who provided all of the illustrations for the book, both black and white pencil drawings and several full-colour paintings.

So, if you know anyone that might need a bit more Christmas magic in their lives, might I suggest helping them discover The Story of Santa Claus?

Friday, 5 September 2014

A Tale from the Time War

The Dalek saucers tore through the Alliance fleet, suffering little damage, but leaving a trail of shattered and lifeless human vessels. In less than two hours, they would reach the planet Harkon II, where their planet killer warheads would exterminate the world's two billion inhabitants. Although a mass evacuation was underway, it was too little, too late. Still, every minute meant another ship that could escape the destruction, another hold full of innocent civilians flown to safety.

The Alliance's last hope rested with a team of eight marines who had successfully boarded the Dalek mothership during the battle. If they could work their way down to the power core, they might just cripple the ship, causing a massive delay in the Dalek assault. Millions would be saved.

In the chaos of the brief space battle, the marine boarding pod had gone undetected as it latched on the Dalek ship. It took several minutes to cut through the ship's outer hull, but soon the marines dropped inside. Using their suit's scanners to detect the strongest power readings, they made their way through the dark, lifeless corridors. The only sound was their heavy breathing and the clank of their boots on the metal floor.

Then, around the corner, stepped a roboman, one the Dalek's lifeless, human warriors. The marines quickly gunned him down, but more followed. A vicious firefight irrupted in the tight corridors of the ship.

The marines' superior firepower, mowed down the robomen, but they just kept coming in what seemed like endless waves. Laser blasts sizzled down dark corridors, blasting through armour and human flesh. A marine fell, and then another, but slowly the survivors advanced, stepping over the still smoking bodies of friends and enemies alike. As the marines closed in on the power core, a pair of Dalek's rolled around the corner.

In seconds, three marines had been cut down, their armour no defense against a Dalek death ray. With only three men remaining, it appear the battle was over. But, just when all was darkest, there was strange sound, a groaning and wheezing. Out of nowhere, a blue box materialized, and an old man, in a battered leather jacket stepped out.

The old man drew a small metal tool from his bandoleer and pointed it at the Daleks.

The tool gave a high pitch whine, which seemed to confuse the Daleks. They spun around in circles, screaming gibberish.

Taking advantage of the confusion, the remaining marines concentrated their firepower on the Daleks, quickly killing them both. Then, with the old man keeping watch, they planted their explosives in the power core. The old man then commanded the three surviving marines into his box, and they faded from existence...


Inspired by the latest episode of Doctor Who, I set up this quick little game, just to have fun and take a few snaps. All of the wall were made quickly by taking last week's recycling and spray painting it black, it's all just cans and plastic food containers along with a few hirst arts barrels.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

While it is not my intention to review every episode of the Doctor Who season, I thought it only fair to say a few words about this week's episode. After my lukewarm review of the season opener, I am happy to say, Doctor Who came back strong this past weekend, presenting one of the best episodes of the past few seasons, and arguably one of the best since the show's revival.

Having left the silliness of dinosaurs and lizard-women in Victorian London behind, the Doctor once again travels into space to take on his greatest enemy, the Daleks.While the Daleks have definitely been overused in the last decade, this is a story that could not function without them.

I am happy to report that Peter Capaldi truly shines as the Doctors in this episode. Although he is still gruff, and at one point seems somewhat callous, it is all part of the greater exploration of his character that is the focus of the story. A story that is presented in a fantastic, action-packed package, that includes a huge shoot-out between a squad of Daleks and human 'rebels'. Dalek's explode, human's are zapped, flames spew in all directions. This is classic Doctor Who, but with a budget the original series could only dream about.

Not every note was pitch perfect, there is a real dud moment when the 'over arching plot line' is badly integrated and detracts from the terrifically building tension, but this is overshadowed by the generally terrific dialogue and really nifty sets.

If even half of the episodes of this season are this good, or even close, it will be a strong season of Doctor Who indeed.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Frostgrave Report

I finally had a chance to sit down and have a game of Frostgrave with Phil Smith, the Games Manager at Osprey Publishing. You can read his full write-up of the game here. Basically, I got trounced. I got off a few good spells early, including a poison dart against his apprentice, but then a lucky bow-shot took down my wizard. That left my poor, outnumbered apprentice to fend for herself before a crossbow bolt took her down as well.

I followed that game up with an even worse beating at the hands of Duncan, the Osprey Games Developer. (He got a lot of help from those stupid wandering zombies.)

Well, at least they had a good time. Just because I wrote the game doesn't mean I'm good at playing it!

Hopefully, there will be some more exiting news coming out about Frostgrave soon.