Monday, 25 March 2013

The psychology of painting

People think you can get out your canvas and paint any time you have a free moment. You can't. Commercial art and painting are entirely different. Painting takes a different mental approach. You have to get the right attitude, the right mood.
Pierre Alechinsky

On the topic of miniatures painting, I became painfully aware this weekend just how many different painting projects I have on the go, and in particular I had some interesting insights into the best way for me to deal with these projects from a psychological perspective.

Over the last six years or so I seem to have organically acquired a great deal of metal and plastic miniatures, most of it 28mm, but quite a few in other scales as well, ranging from 20mm to 6mm and some ships in various scales. I am reluctant to eBay most of the unpainted lead / plastic, because you never know when you might need it. By contrast,my collection of RPGs is now relatively static, as for every new game / supplement I buy, I seem to be selling something as well. Plus, I'm more realistic about RPGs these days - there is a finite amount of time / opportunity to play them, and hence it seems easier to dispose of some of the more peripheral items on eBay. Sure, I doubt I could ever part with my Call of Cthulhu collection, which I built up mainly in the 1990s, but some of the other stuff, like GURPS, was obviously never going to get played, so onto eBay it went.

With figure painting, I have realised that I have a tendency to worry away at figures, as I'm rarely satisfied with my work. For example, I painted up a set of four Copplestone hobbits which I'm quite pleased with, but these were on my painting bench for the best part of a year. I'd keep going back to them when I got bored with Necrons or Zulus, adding new colours or techniques. In a way, they were practise dummies, in that I'd use them to experiment with before applying the technique to something else I was painting. They finally got finished when I realised there was no point adding anything else to them, and they will shortly be making their debut in my Lord of the Rings campaign (one participated as Bagbo Biggins in the massacre at Linden Way).

My painting bench is currently divided into four projects:

Project #1: Warhammer - I have two armies on the go here, Bretonnians and Lizardmen. These are largely here to entertain the kids when the fancy to paint takes them, and we're making slow progress. I generally dabble in these when a figure approaches conclusion, doing a bit of a repair job. I've got a unit of knights which look close to being finished, but will need some final work and some decals. I'm optimistic that we could have a 1000 point Warhammer battle this summer, if we're diligent about it.

Project # 2: Warhammer 40K - Here I'm currently working on a 1000 point Tyranid army for WH40K / Rogue Trader. This is an army that seems to have grown organically over time, gradually being assembled, primed and painted. It was originally meant to be just Genestealers for use with Space Hulk, but seems now to have morphed into a respectable force. It is hard painting these, because there is more detail to the models than one realises at first, plus the Termagants are more fiddly then anticipated. Also, there are a LOT of them

Project # 3: Dystopian Wars - I'm working on a small Russian fleet for Dystopian Wars. This is the first time I've worked on resin and I have to say I quite like it. I'm impressed with the quality / detail of the castings from Spartan Games. They've really done a good job with these. I'm currently just painting up the Tiny Flyers (bases of aircraft), but they are already beginning to look great.

Project #4: Lord of the Rings - I have to say I do like the Lord of the Rings range of miniatures from Games Workshop. They are smaller in scale than the chunkier Warhammer figures, possibly harder to get right in terms of painting, but they do look excellent once finished. My collection has largely been acquired from friends getting rid of theirs for next to nothing, so I've been able to build up a fair number of castings simply by expressing an interest. They have also been able to double occasionally for other games, like Orc's Drift and RPGs.

I'm determined to finish my Tyranids and my Russian fleet sooner rather than later, and am currently focusing on them. The LotR figures are being used in my current campaign, so priority with these is determined largely when they are due to enter the campaign. Currently on the painting bench are the Barrow Wights and Strider.

I DO like 28mm as a scale. But I have found painting huge units - like Zulus for example - to be harder. I'm more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. Even a unit of 8-10 figures is a big exercise, although if I focus, I think I can get one done in a month. It is easily possible for attention to waver and go onto something shinier and for the unit to languish in a semi-painted state. I also like worrying away at one or two 'character' figures until I'm happy with them. It seems somehow therapeutic to have a hobbit or a Pathfinder character on the go alongside a unit. I don't like painting to deadlines, and find that if I do, the final product is never great (e.g. I was not happy with some of the farmers I painted up for the Linden Way battle).

If psychological self-analysis is anything to go by, my tabletop wargames should therefore reflect my painting preferences, if I'm every going to get to the point where I've got sufficient figures to actually play with something. A Tyranid army is probably never really finished - there'll always be another reason to start another unit - but once I've got my first 1000 points on the table, and once my Russian fleet is finished, I'm going to focus on those games which need fewer figures, particularly skirmish games of a more Mordheim-like dimension.

There is also no point in buying more figures than one can realistically paint in a month. My estimate is that I can average about three 'characters' and a single unit up up to 10 'regulars' in a month. Anything more than that, and I'll be doing well. For Dystopian Wars, this works out at 8-10 smaller vessels and up to three bigger ships. Roughly. As you can see, splitting my efforts between multiple projects just slows the whole process down. Discipline, both in terms of focusing on current projects and limiting the amount of new lead / plastic I buy, is going to be the key here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Necrons in Oldhammer

My Tyranid army for first edition WH40K is slowly taking shape. I'm having some trouble with the dark blue on the Termagants as it is obscuring their facial features. It may require some highlighting, which will only serve to make this project longer. In the meantime, I'm looking at other options, and have alighted on my considerable Necron army as an alternative. What I didn't realise was that the Necrons debuted back in 1997 in White Dwarf, well before GW released a Codex for them. This probably still sits them firmly in the second edition of the rules rather than the first, but it still represents the earliest iteration of the Necron race in WH40K.

As an army list, it doesn't shoot the lights out: the first Necron Codex had far more options. The list is restricted to the Necron Lord, Necron Warriors, and the Necron Destroyer. Scarabs are present, but as single figures rather than swarm bases as they are now. No Tomb Spiders. No Flayed Ones. Still, it does mean I've already got a scratch force I can use until my Tyranids come online.

The Necron pseudo-army, as it stands, will be quite small. Even with a 1000 points budget, a single squad of five Necron Warriors is going to set you back 220 points. A single Destroyer is 75 points. However, they ARE Toughness 5, don't need to take Leadership tests, and benefit from the 'I'll be back!' resurrection feature. This means downed Necrons stay on the table until they roll either a 1 (remove from play and beyond repair) or a 6 (they get up again). There are no restrictions about distance from other Necron units, which hobble the more recent Necron armies.

I also particularly like the repair feature for the Destroyer - if it is taken out, the 'rider' can self-repair like a normal warrior, and can even come back into play as a warrior without his skimmer - i.e. he is detachable and the Destroyer platform is simply viewed as a vehicle. Awesome.

I don't know what to do about the scarabs. I'd like to use my existing swarm bases, so it may be I will have to jury rig a house rule to cover these. What is interesting is that they do not attack enemies - they are there to disrupt and weaken targets and protect the rest of the Necrons from damage - they are not the lethal Deep Strike weapons they have become more recently. More on this once I've had time to consider it.

I think I'm going to end up with a pretty tiny army at the end of the day. But at least it is one that I can field straight away.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Enter the Nosferatu

So, here we have the evil Nosferatu, who will be facing off against the Holy Order of St Agnes of Tours in Empires of the Dead. Again, I've used the suggested $150 budget suggested in the rules. These are a bunch of interloping undead from Eastern Europe, on a quest for something in Britain, damn them! I've maintained the 1:3 ratio of heroes to mooks (I think they can have two heroes with four mooks, but as these guys have five thralls, I've added another hero as well.

Heroes:

Graf Felix (Graf) - Felix is the count of Castle Vraal in Bohemia. He never drinks...wine.

Johannes (Consort) - Felix keeps Johannes around because he likes his boyish good looks. They met at a soiree hosted by Immanuel Kant in Prussia in 1804. Johannes is armed with a sabre.

Anatoly Vorishkin (Guardian) - Anatoly used to be an officer in the Tsar's army; now he watches the count's back. He has a heavy pistol. He likes vodka. Принесите его на!

Thralls:

No bat swarms, so I'm going with human followers, the count's retainers from his estate and surrounding villages (apart from Henrietta - see below).

Gustav - the count's gardener, he carries a spade (bludgeoning weapon, two handed). He is used to burying things out of sight.

Heinrich - a bruiser from the wrong side of the tracks, he is Gustav's son and carries a knife.

Rolf - a blacksmith, he looks after the count's horses and carries a big hammer (budgeoning weapon, two handed).

Kurt - he used to be a doctor in Leipzig before he got mixed up with the vampires; he carries a light pistol.

Henrietta van der Bulden - a bored socialite the vampires picked up in Amsterdam on their way over from Prussia; she is secretly in love with Johannes; she has a knife and knows how to use it.

Ready cash for tips, train tickets and tailors - $2.

Es ist Zeit zum feiern!


The Holy Order of St Agnes of Tours

The Holy Order of St Agnes of Tours are my play test faction of West Wind's Empires of the Dead game. This really uses existing figures from my collection which have featured for example in a previous game of Ganesha's Fear & Faith.

The game is very much a gang-based Victorian / steampunk / horror offering (similar in scale to Mordheim), which West Wind are hoping to expand with new factions using Kickstarter. I'm just keen to get a road test of it before I decide to sink any more money into figures, particularly as I'm pondering more investment into an Impetus Roman army at the moment.

The Holy of Order of St Agnes are based around the convent of St Agnes in Tours, whose militant nuns have waged war on the forces of evil and darkness since the 14th century (Joan or Arc is rumoured to have been a member).

The Order is still led by priests seconded from the Holy Inquisition, however, with the nuns making up the foot soldiers. This particular posse is configured for fighting vampires, as I'm planning on sending them up against Nosferatu. All members of this faction get a holy symbol for free, making them particularly potent against undead and demons.

Heroes:

Father Maurice Le Blanc (Deacon) - wooden stake, garlic grenade, holy relic (bible of St Agnes)

Father Absalom Green (Confessor) - wooden stake, garlic grenade, light pistol

Followers:

Sister Esmeralda - wooden stake, bull's eye lantern

Sister Daphne - wooden stake, light pistol

Sister Margaret - the black sheep of the convent has returned to the fold with a wooden stake and a whip!

Matthew Trench, the Vicar of Dibley - Matthew is the cousin of Absalom Green (above) and has been roped into the gang for operations in the British Isles. He is armed with a wooden stake and a smoke bomb.

The list comes to 147 shillings total, with three shillings left over in ready cash.

A note on the whip, which is not in the rules. I've rated it as an entangling weapon with a range of 8". It can be used more than once per game, but can only entangle one enemy model at a time.



Monday, 4 March 2013

With Napoleon in Zululand

The Prince Imperial
The Easter holidays are approaching fast and with them the warmer weather and the prospect of getting the gaming hut back into action. On the few occasions I've been down there over the winter months, it has been damnable cold and inhospitable, convincing me that playing games there is more of a summer activity, despite the wonderful heaters.

I'm working on a couple of scenarios for Lord of the Rings, the next installments from the Fellowship of the Ring journey book, plus maybe one or two for Force on Force, time allowing. These are awesome games which rarely produce a result I'm not happy with. On top of that, I'm also hoping to get some play testing done for Bolt Action.

Finally, I'm working on an adaptation of a colonial skirmish that appeared in February's Wargames Illustrated. Entitled 'A Very Small Disaster' it concerns the sad demise of Prince Napoleon Louise Eugene Jean Joseph, the grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte, in Zululand. Following his family's exile from France in 1871, the young prince had spent much of his time in England, but eager to see some action, he had blagged his way onto the British expedition to invade Zululand in 1879.

The commander of the British invasion, Lord Chelmsford, had left explicit instructions that the young royal was in no way to get anyway near the Zulus, and was to be accompanied by British troops at all times. As ever with such things, the responsibility for looking after the prince seems to have been delegated as the expedition heated up and senior officers became too busy with planning to keep an eye on a French aristocrat. Hence, the quarter master general handed the job on to Lt Col Redvers Buller who in turn seems to have fobbed it off onto a junior officer called Lt Carey (a friend of the prince).

This all resulted in the prince going off on a scouting expedition into the iTyotyosi Valley with only a small escort of dragoons, an expedition which led to his eventual demise on the end of a Zulu assegai.

The scenario as it stands is designed for a GM to run with up to five players, taking the role of the various British combatants. However, I'm going to tweak it for play with Legends of the Old West, as a two player game. I am going to alter the turn sequence so that Zulus and British activate on a card draw, with a joker in the deck to force a re-shuffle and the end of the turn. This is a bit of a deviation from the usual LotOW rules (themselves based on Lord of the Rings), but I have started using a similar mechanic in The Sword & The Flame, which works quite well. In this case, however, my plan is to assign a card to each character, and then have the Zulus moving in groups of 4-6 on black cards. Thus, there is a good chance characters won't get to move every single turn.

I have used LotOW for the Zulu War before, but I think we played with too many figures for it to work well, even with the extra rules in the Alamo supplement. I think its mechanics are more suited for about 5-20 figures per side. The British in this case have four troopers, a corporal, a sergeant, a Zulu scout, and a lieutenant (Carey) as well as Louis Napoleon himself (who will have to be assigned the Jack of Hearts). I'll post LotOW stats for these guys on the blog once they have been cooked up.

I've not decided how many Zulus should be used, but given that the objective of the prince imperial is to escape, there should be enough that they run little risk of being driven off. With the scouting party at nine, I think 25 Zulus, including some with muskets, should work well.

There's never a redcoat around when you need one!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fixing my Pathfinder problems with Hero Lab

In recent months I've been finding Pathfinder increasingly fiddly to play, particularly as work has been busy in February, and I've been looking after two characters, namely my own cleric and Sebastian's ranger / rogue combo Tarion. On top of this, as mentioned in a previous post, keeping track of cleric spell selection in-game can be time consuming, as the range of available magic for divine spellcasters is so big in Pathfinder, particularly when playing with many of the rules expansions, like the Advanced Players Guide or Ultimate Magic.

The future for multi-panel dungeon master screens....


I have also found Excel a clunky and not 100% accurate way of running characters, partly because I don't use Excel every day and partly because of its reliance on macros which sometimes flip out unexpectedly. In addition, Excel does not update homogenously with the expanding Pathfinder rules canon, nor does it have a high level of automation / connectivity with the core Pathfinder data archive.

Enter Hero Lab. I was in two minds about buying Hero Lab for Pathfinder, but decided that rather than spending money on another RPG book which I might / might not use, Hero Lab might be of more use, both for running characters and potentially for running Pathfinder dungeon bashes in future.

Hero Lab is a downloadable application for the PC. It currently does not exist in an ASP format, which is a pity, and there is no app for tablets / mobile devices. However, it is easy to use. It seems to derive its functionality from what I suspect is a portfolio management system designed to run multiple stock portfolios. I could be completely wrong here, but some of the language that crops up in the interface is reminiscent of systems I've used in the day job for running derivatives portfolios.

Joe's Pathfinder server farm was invading his gaming space.


Hero Lab allows you to generate and manage characters. I can't comment on the GM tools, as I've not had reason to use them yet. HL can run off HTML, text or PDF versions of characters when needed, manage equipment and spell lists and also provides a dynamic 'playable' character sheet for use in-game, which I'm tempted to use. I love the way it can import a photo / art  for use in a character sheet. It is also regularly updated as new rules / expansions come out for Pathfinder. This allows it to adjust not just for attributes and feats, but also for obscure magic items, encumberance, traits, special abilities, etc.

The downside of Hero Lab is that you do need to pay extra for expansions. While the core software license is $30, you're looking at close to another $30 if you want to download all the data supporting the various Pathfinder extensions, from the APG to the various bestiaries (if you need touch of a button access to stat blocks of various summoned creatures, for example). Pathfinder has reached that point where it has travelled beyond previous incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons, and is more complex than 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. It requires some kind of software support, in my view, to stay on top of a game that has become increasingly granular in terms of the sheer volume of crunch available to players.

On the upside, once you own the core Hero Lab software, you can also expand it to run Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu or even 4e. You do need to pay extra for the licenses to manage these games. It would be great to see Ars Magica on this platform as well but I suspect this game is not popular enough to justify the development hours.

In many ways, Pathfinder is becoming an increasingly player-driven game, with reams of spells, feats and hardware available to player characters, along with vast amounts of different power-ups and exceptions. It feels in some ways like a console game that has been transplanted to the table top. It is far more player-focused than earlier iterations of this game. But it has created a huge burden of accounting and paperwork. Hero Lab looks to harness software to make this much easier to manage than Excel can. It is more dynamic and has superior usability features. It also allows a fairly high degree of customisation although I've yet to plumb those features. I really don't see myself playing Pathfinder without it in the future. 9/10.