Thursday, 27 May 2021

Otherworld Wood Elves

A look at some concept art for Otherworld Miniatures Wood Elves. 

The initial brief from Richard at Otherworld was for three figures of a small patrol band, armed with Spear, Bow and Sword and lightly armoured, (not entirely coincidently as the Elf entry arms them in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual) referencing Jes Goodwins 1980s Elves for Citadel Miniatures, especially the ME31 Wood Elves, Angus McBrides artwork for Iron Crown Enterprises Middle Earth Roleplaying and some other classic fantasy imagery, alongside Otherworlds established 'at ready' poses.

Being less than half a Brandybuck and something of a Gamgee, I've always loved Elves. My first Warhammer army was built around Goodwins Scarloc's Wood Elf Archers, so the theme was close to my heart. In keeping with the Otherworld range, I wanted to slightly update the look, keeping a lot of the 1980s design cues but updating the aesthetic, emphasising the fay-ness alongside the elves traditional connection to nature. It was also an opportunity to draw on some other Elvish influences, such as Moorcocks Vadhagh, and Tolkiens (being the creator of the contemporary fantasy Elf, after all) professed love of the Arts and Crafts movement and give them something of romantic 'celtic' air, clearly belonging to a culture grounded in the decorative arts while keeping them earthy and practical fighting types.

After some initial sketches and discussion, pencilled and inked drawings of three elves.

Wood Elf Inks

The inked drawings were then scanned into the computer, re-arranged slightly and prep'd with titles.
Wood Elf Swordsman

The swordsman, slightly approaching. Probably the most 'noble' of the three, with ornate studded leather armour. The jewelled cloak brooch, that might be reminiscent of Fëanor, the smooth, round jewel motif that I think emerged with Robert Goulds early 80s depictions of Elric of Melniboné, and carried right through by Goodwin into the 80s elves and into the wraithstones of the Space Elves or Eldar of 40k. It also echoes the Otherworld FA6 Ranger, suggesting perhaps a Stone of Eärendil and marking him out as an elf-friend. The leaf-shaped sword bronze-age design, and La-Tene influenced shield historically grounds him, and early-medievalism of arts-and-crafts. A grim, stern character. 

Wood Elf Spearman

Spearman, standing at ease, shield slung over his shoulder. A slightly younger, less experienced fellow. Leaf-shaped spear-head and decorative tooled leather knife sheath and wineskin, subtly referencing the elven carousing of the Mirkwood Elves in The Hobbit. Yes, Elfquest fans, he will have red hair when I get round to painting him...

Wood Elf Archer

Archer, readying bow, probably a game hunter brought along on patrol for practical purposes. The folklore of Elf-Shot, carrying over the tooled leatherwork, cloak and tunic of the other characters. Resisted the urge to make the bow overly ornate reflex curve but keep his shortbow a bit naturalistic and wild - suitable for hunting small game in woodlands.

Once the three drawings were completed, and cleaned up they were passed over to Paul Muller to base the sculpting of the miniatures on.

And now, in time-homoured Zhu Industries tradition, a few quick photos of the bare models, hastily stuck together with blue-tac in black and white.

Wood Elf Bowman

Wood Elf Spearman

Wood Elf Swordsman

As you'd expect, the models are crisp clean casts, with no flash or mouldlines at all. Paul Muller has done an extraordinary job of bringing the characters to life, capturing the weird slightly alien look that elves should have, and heroically translating the detail into more than serviceable form.

Plus, if you purchase several sets, with a little modelling skill and imagination the swordsmans round shield and spearmans leaf-shaped shield can be swapped repositioned and mixed and matched to create a little variety and form up a neat little warband for Frostgrave (Frostglade?) or a larger encounter group for Dungeons & Dragons.

Wood Elf Spearman 1

Wood Elf Swordsman 2

Wood Elf Patrol

Wood Elf Patrol ready to harass anyone foolhardy enough to accidentally step over the boundaries of their forested domain,  allow a merchant caravan safe passage though secret woodland trails for a tithe, clear out an encampment of goblin mushroom foragers, or arrest some dwarven lumberjacks for illicit log poaching and picnic interrupting.

And finally, here they are in glorious technicolour, expertly painted by Andrew Taylor:

WE40 Wood Elves

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this look 'behind the scenes' and like the final miniatures. The WE40 Wood Elves available from Otherworld Miniatures priced £14 for the set of 3.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Some Ludological influences on the early adoption of Dungeons and Dragons etc.


Joe over on Uncaring Cosmos recently posted some interesting thoughts on early ludological influences on the development of tabletop role-playing games, and some strands of influence on early adoption of Dungeons & Dragons that I've been thinking about again recently. Curiously both strands feature simultaneously on front cover of Games & Puzzles magazine #23 from March/April 1974. 

Games & Puzzles #23, March / April 1974

Games & Puzzles was a general interest games magazine, a colour-cover glossy magazine on the shelves of newsagents and WH Smiths, distributed by the vernerable satirical magazine Punch.  Launched during the boardgame boom of the mid 1970s Games & Puzzles carried regular columns on crossword solving, chess, scrabble, reviewing latest releases of everything from the latest childrens TV tie in stocking filler to abstract cerebral MENSA-level entertainment through the entirety of the Second World War in hexagons and d12 tables and everything in between.

Historically, I think it is sensible to talk about pre-D&D ludological frameworks - games, methodologies, ideas and discourses about games - that may have influenced the early adopters of D&Ds understanding, approaches, acceptance and adopted playstyles of D&D itself as separate from post-D&D frameworks that may have influenced early-majority  of D&D, as those frameworks appearing in a post-D&D landscape may have already been influenced by the innovations of D&D itself. So while my personal introduction to RPGs was through Fighting Fantasy, it's a second-generation development, indeed, originally created by D&D early adopters Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone to explain D&D, and while FF might have influenced those (like myself) caught up in the 80s D&D boom, it didn't provide impetus for the initial, original acceptance, success or development of D&D when it was published.  

There is, unfortunately something of a presentist tendency in fandoms to back-project concepts, for example there's an 'eternal discourse'* about "D&D separating from 'wargaming roots'" (as pernicious as a myth as Warhammer emerging from 'roleplaying roots') without really indicating much of an understanding that what "wargaming" really meant in 1974, or any expectation that it might actually be a bit different from the understanding somebody carries around in their head in 2021. Much same in Tolkien fandom,  where The Hobbit is forced to fit into the "world" of The Lord of the Rings, while it's textual relationship to The Silmarillion is widely ignored due to authorial comments taken out of context, and that the evidence - early drafts - aren't widely read within fandom. As ever, the only way of escape these infernal traps is to actually look at the original texts.

Games & Puzzles #23, March / April 1974
Mastermind 1973-ish
Setting Up a Wargames Campaign, Tony Bath 1973 (1978 edition)
Dungeon Masters Guide 1979

The Games & Puzzles article by Tony Bath on his Hyboria wargame campaign has comments from several players, including wargaming legend Donald Featherstone. What they are describing in todays parlance would probably be described as a 'freeform play-by-mail domain level roleplaying game', but at the time was simply a Wargames Campaign.  Each player controls a king, emperor, overlord or some-such individual who rules over a land loosely based on RE Howards Conan the Barbarian stories. Bath mentions, with some humour, disallowing plays based on works other than Howards original stories - gaming as an extension of S&SF fandom, where debates about 'canonicity' and legitimacy provide much of the interest.  Bath fully admits to controlling the rules of the world as he sees fit - in a dictatorial manner rather than the democratic mode Bath ascribes to Midgard, and thus, the fiat of the Dungeon Master is firmly established.  Needless to say, the idea of an impartial but all-powerful (and all-knowing) umpire is as old as modern wargaming, going back to von Reisswitz 1812 Kreigsspeil, but how that might have framed approaches to D&D in the 1970s is, perhaps a different story.

Games Illustrated. Boris Vallejo 1984 (post-D&D)

Featherstone writes about being given the character of Conan to play, and subsequently making game decisions in character, and much is made of the games in-world newspaper and the ability for players to focus on their areas of their interest, and for the narratives emerge from play within the structures of defined rules, including those for generating and playing the personalities of the non-player characters who fill the courts and high ranking military positions within each players nation, alongside the initial conditions of geography, supply-chains and Baths judgement. The 'emergent narrative' isn't something I've noticed much in RPG discourse, GNS 'theory' seems to entirely miss the point by essentialising and compartmentalising aspects which are actually complementary and fluid. However it seems to have been a strong element of what a "Wargames Campaign" actually was - a story that emerges from the decisions made by the players within the game system. I digress.  

There is no question that from a British perspective, that the G&P Hyboria article is a pre-D&D artefact, given that D&D had only just been published in the US, and Games Workshop wouldn't start importing it until 1975. The appearance of Hyborian discourse around fantasy gaming, the playing of roles and emergent narratives, within mainstream games media of the time seems remarkable in itself. It's hard not to see the reception and ludological frameworks in the milleu in which D&D was adopted as being informed, if not already established by discussions of Hyboria, (and perhaps Midgard) that employs diverse play-styles some of which would later became synonymous with 'role-playing' but at the time were just an integrated part of the broad fertile plains of the 'wargaming' landscape. I direct interested readers to Jon Peterson Playing at the World, his book deals with Hyborea and D&D topic quite comprehensively, or to undertake your own research into Tony Baths Hyborea Tiny Tin Men provide a good access point to much of the published material. It's clear that Bath had been playing Hyborea since the 1960, but to what extent the elements Bath and Featherstone describe in Games & Puzzles were part of the 1960s game would need slow careful and thorough exploration through the evidence.  Nonetheless, the main point isn't to claim Tony Bath invented fantasy roleplaying before D&D, or had influenced Arneson & Gygax or even David Wesely's late 1960s Braunstein games in some way,  but rather that only a mere matter of months prior to D&D manifesting on the prime material planes, Hyboria was being talked about in the mainstream, popular gaming press, and the dissemination of those ideas may have informed the approach to Fantasy Gaming in general and D&D in particular of a broader general audience, especially in a British context of a general gaming audience than a specialist wargaming audience.

Outside the mainstream, popular gaming press, in the small-press gaming zines there is post-D&D documentary evidence of a direct influence of Baths Hyboria (rather than an airy 'ludological framework') in the 1977 contribution to D&D APA-Zine, The Wild Hunt #12  by Bryan Ansell (Founder of Citadel Miniatures, Warhammer instigator, Games Workshop Managing Director, Laserburn designer etc.) . In his brief overview of "'how we do things in Nottingham" he references expanding the social role of D&D characters using Baths Setting Up A Wargames Campaign (WRG, 1973) which published world-building and characterisation guidelines that Bath established during his Hyborian campaign. And as is the increasingly knotted nature of these things, in the same article, Bryan also mentions using Greg Staffords White Bear and Red Moon  (1975)  board-wargame set in Glorantha as a basis for a D&D campaign - a year before Runequest (the official Gloranthan RPG) was published.

After "Wargaming" a second thread of ludological influence taken up by the early adopters of D&D is undoubtedly boardgaming. Joe at Uncaring Cosmos cites the aforementioned White Bear and Red Moon, (which provide a cover feature for G&P #61, June 77 by Lewis Pulsipher) although as an example to think about it's a little bit of a cheat, as WBRM is a Board-Wargame in the hex-and-chit style Board-Wargaming of Avalon Hill, rather than a 'pure' board-game. 

Semantics aside, Joe's point that boardgames should be considered as providing a ludological framework for the understanding and development of D&D by some of its early adopters stands up to scrutiny. Consider the case of the boardgame Diplomacy (1959), which under some definitions might be considered a wargame but was popular and prelevant enough to establish its own discreet presence beyond both the miniatures table-top and the hex-and-chit "Wargaming" communities. As D&D emerged from the dank and dismal regions it swiftly became taken up by those involved in the Diplomacy zines and the postal diplomacy scene. While it might seem that simply because of the printed (mimographed),  nature of much Postal Diplomacy fandom and its physical manifestation in a vast treasure-trove of play-by-mail zines means that Diplomacy fandom simply produced more evidence of itself than other, quieter areas of gaming, it is fair to say it probably did have greater direct influence on the British early-adopters than any other single pre-D&D influence. Luminaries such as Ian Livingstone, Don Turnbull, Lew Pulsipher and Hartley Patterson all go through the revolving door of 'Dippy' and D&D. Ludologically there is the built-in social-negotation aspect of Diplomacy that makes it particularly akin to the adventurer-player team D&D, wheras in something like Chess, making deals, persuasion and cajoling between players is working against the system, in Diplomacy, as D&D, it is an intended consequence of the system. One of the main innovations of Postal Diplomacy in thematic terms was to use the game to play J.R.R. Tolkiens Middle-Earth,  Frank Herberts Dune or some other fantastic realm from SF&F literature, and like Baths Howardesque Hyborian Campaign foreshadows D&D as essentially as a gameable extension of SF&F fandom. The biggest ludological change from board to postal Diplomacy is the introduction of a non-player umpire, whose role it is to collate the orders sent in each turn and return the results in an unbiased and even manner - no doubt helping form the attitudes of those familiar Diplomacy with who would assume the mantle of the Dungeon Master.

Mastermind 1972
Monster Manual 1977

Another, perhaps more widespread game but less documented example of the a similar ludalogical framework may be seen in Mordecai Meirowitz code-cracking game Mastermind - a game of cunning and logic for two players. An award winning 1972 plastic implementation of the abstract pen and paper game 'bulls and cows', given a slightly more sophisticated James Bond-esque slant to the marketing. The game was "selected for the Design Center London", won Game of the Year 1973 and given a Queens Award for Export, sales boomed, national and international competitions were spawned, and Mastermind became a mainstay of Games & Puzzles articles, peg-trays haunted the G-Plan sideboards of suburbia and Hoover Junior Upright Vacuum cleaner bags were filled with multicoloured plastic pegs across the country and around the world.

The other 1972 Mastermind - Approaching Menace

Mastermind establishes a clear separation of roles - one player sets up a code, the other player then attempts to solve it, both working within the rules and restrictions of the game system, rather than say Chess or Diplomacy where each player is essentially playing the same role against each other. This could be seen to both echo and reinforce the playstyles of early D&D - one player is the Dungeon Master who sets up a dungeon, and the other player(s) attempt to 'solve' it, both within the rules of the game.  Certainly we can see this Rudolpho's review of Ken St. Andre's, admittedly D&D derived game, Tunnels & Trolls (G&P #61, June 77) where the still nascent genre moniker 'role-playing' isn't used at all, and the review focuses heavily on explaining how one player 'sets up a dungeon' and the adventurers then 'solve it', both working within the rules of the game.  So, through the lens of Mastermind we can see the idea of the Dungeon Master not only being the setter of the dungeon-puzzle but also being the non-adversarial respondent to the players actions, the setter in Mastermind isn't trying to block the other player solving the puzzle, but rather to impartially respond to the players plays, and facilitate their exploration of the code-dungeon. Not that anyone would express it as such at the time, but the ubiquity of Mastermind, may have helped establish a ludological framework that prepared a more mainstream audience for certain D&D play-styles.

Some of these concepts, a notion of 'dungeon-as-code', Dungeon Master as neutral code-setter / facilitator, players creating emergent narratives, seem essential to the OSR playstyle in ways that many of the post-D&D influencers miss, certainly it suggests development of investigative playstyles both of the dungeon-crawl with a 10-ft pole type as well as the mystery-solving of the whodunnit and explorations into the supernatural.  It's also a reminder that D&D, or RPGs, or Wargaming do not exist in a isolation, and that while fandoms become increasingly ouberous like in their self consumption, it was once entirely necessary to glance into adjacent spaces to provide ways of thinking about what are now known as 'TTRPGs'.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Grognardia, Gargantuas & Goblins

Illustrations for two Classes for James Maliszewski's Grognards Grimoire series, set in, around and under the Monastery of Urheim.


The Gargantua stands with his trusty felling axe, shifting his iron-buckled belt. He wears a self-made black bearskin jerkin over a woollen tunic, decorated with traditional hillfolk patterns. His linen breeches are tied at the calf with leather straps, as are the deer-leather shoes.

Along with André The Giant's portrayal of Fezzik in Rob Reiners 1987 film Princess Bride as suggested by James as the direction,  the idea of a demi-giant character class conjured images Little John from the Robin Hood oeuvre, Clive Mansell's Little John in Richard Carpenters 1984 TV series Robin of Sherwood, and Howard Hew Lewis's Rabies in Tony Robinsons 1989 BBC childrens comedy Maid Marian and her Merry Men, but also of Bernard Breslaw's Gort in Terry Marcels 1981 movie Hawk the Slayer, Dudly Watkins cartoon creation Desparate Dan, himself probably influenced by characters such as Paul Bunyan  the massive lumberjack and John Henry the enormous railway worker from American Folklore and the oversized, overstrong hero of Edwardian folk song My Brother Sylveste.  and childhood memories of the giant smuggler at Black Gang Chine and the image of since vanished 1970s saturday morning sporting heroes of the British Wrestling Foundation such as Giant Haystacks and Worlds Strongest Man Geoff Capes. The mythic archetype of the 'big man' probably traceable back to Thor

Goblin Adventurer

The Goblin holds aloft a pitch and rag torch as he creeps forward, holding a bronze leaf-bladed knife. He wears a stiffened leather jerkin fastened at the sides with hemp string over a simple woolen tunic. A small leather pouch hangs from his tanned and oiled leather belt, fastened with bronze buckle and he carries a dark leather shoulder-slung bag. Footware consists of lengths of leather wrapped around a linen sock.

James supplied a couple of goblin images that emerged from the OSR, unfortunately I don't know their exact origins, but they were quite good. Alongside these I had in mind the miniature sculptor Kevin Adams  Goblins and especially his mid-1980s  C12 Goblin range for Citadel Miniatures, along with something of Bil Sedgwicks anarchic comic strip goblin Anti-hero Gobbeldigook from White Dwarf Magazine, undoubtedly influenced by Arthur Rackhams goblins managerie. My original drawing was considered a little too evil, and James wanted a more neutral character suitable for a wider range of Player Characters, so I softened the expression and rounded the features a little, perhaps one or two of Joe Johnstons early concept art for Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, alongside Dave Trampiers comic cast of trolls from the classic Wormy comic strip from Dragon Magazine. 

There are exits here to: 

Basic / Expert Dungeons & Dragons and Old-School Essentials
The Gargantua  and Goblin Character Classes of the Grognards Grimoire at Grognardia.
The Urheim at Grognardia.