Saturday, 15 September 2018

[RBG] Warbands of Wrath and Ruin

Mighty-thewed Barbarian miniatures emerging from the mists of prehistory to raid and pillage under the auspices of Dark Gods.

Warbands of Wrath & Ruin | Campaign Banner

Barbarian Slave Fighters


Untill now RBG miniatures have been largely 'northern' in inspiration, weaving Nordic and Arthurian influences into a frostbitten Dark Ages milieu.

With Warbands of Wrath and Ruin, RBG steps into a new direction.  The primeval dawn of time, before the sinking of Atlantis to a world of ruined empires, a world of gods and magic, of flesh and bronze a world or barbaric heroism.

For me it evokes the imagery and worlds of 1970s pulp fantasy fiction Robert E. Howards Conan the Barbarian, Richard Corbens Den,  John Normans Gor, Boris Vallejo, Chris Achilleos, Frank Frazetta, Brom,

Sandro Symeoni

Boris Vallejo

Val Mayerik
Joe Jusco
Les Edwards

A gaming world and rules set is under development, in the meanwhile the figures have obvious use for skirmish warbands in Songs of Blades and Heroes, Warhammer (Chaos Thugs) or barbarian themed Frostgrave warband. Bronze Age / Barbarian adventurers or NPC encounters for pulp, Swords and Sorcery remixes of contemporary Dungeons & Dragons or even  Age of Sigmar, and excellent character or encounter pieces for the various Conan RPGs (from TSR to Mophidius) and the ever burgeoning range of classic swords and sorcery inpired games, Astonishing swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Crypts & Things, Barbarians of Lemuria or Adventurer, Conqueror, King

Warbands of Wrath & Ruin on Kickstarter:

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Renegade Scout - Review

Renegade Scout - Retro-inspired Sci-fi Miniatures Rules is a 179 page e-book (pdf) published in August 2018, by Nordic Weasel Games and written by Ivan Sorrensen, containing 50 colour photographs of various science-fiction miniatures and some scratch-built scenery.

Renegade Scout. Front Cover

"Retro-inspired Sci-fi Miniatures Rules" hmm? sounds interesting...

Ivan is quite open about his inspirations and sources - the original 1987 Warhammer 40k: Rogue Trader and 40k 2nd edition, his introduction even goes as far as to suggest a musical play-list including Slough Feg, Bolt Thrower and The Sword, all hopefully familiar territory to long time followers of this blog, and firmly in the centre of my gaming obsessions. It has to be said, rewriting the ruleset that built a gaming empire is a brave move, not only taking on Rick Priestly's 1980s design decisions, many of which lasted through 30 odd years of tinkering by inheritors, but also the legions of grongnards who appreciate the original game like a vintage motorcycle.

My original falling apart Rogue Trader
Like a vintage motorcycle, spends most of its time in the garage.

Renegade Scout is touted on it's OBS page as a retroclone. To me, the word 'retroclone' has a very specific meaning, in that the game mechanically reproduces or 'clones' the original, as near exactly as legally possible. So OSRIC is without a doubt a retroclone of the 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, while Lamentations of the Flame Princess - based on 1974 'oD&D' and somewhat compatible is not a retroclone of it, but instead takes some of the core ideas and takes them into a new direction. Renegade Scout is an example of the latter rather than former.

If you're looking for a retroclone of Rogue Trader to use at the table as a straight alternative to your original hardback that fell apart because the binding was iffy, or to compile the various additional rules from White Dwarf - Renegade Scout is not intended to fill that role. Most notable deviations the core combat mechanics have been overhauled, the To-Hit and To-Wound tables have been replaced with a roll-under stat mechanism, much like contemporary 40k, which  Renegade Scout then uses as a universal mechanism for action resolution.   The turn order is different, with the players taking turns within each phase (movement, shooting, combat etc.), rather than completing all their phases before play passes to the other player. As Ivan states in his designers notes, having produced a reasonably accurate retroclone as a draft, he then took it into a new, simpler and more streamlined direction. Whether the ideals of simpler and more streamlined can produce an authentically old-school experience is very much a matter of taste, nontheless, much of the attitude and game style of the original Rogue Trader remains - the open universe, narrative gaming and providing a large toolbox of ideas to play with.

The whole thing is written in a clear, friendly, personable style, not a dry rules-lawyereese nor the incessant sales-pitch nor constant self aggrandisement that plagues many genre games. The attitude is  both casual and enthusiastic, but doesn't intrude on the clarity of the rules. Although the PDF has not been professionally designed, the page layout is very clear and functional, not suffering from paragraphs breaking over pages or many of the typographical and layout problems we see in small press games. While there are no diagrams, the explanations are clear, but for primarily visual learners this might be something of a drawback.

There is much that will be familiar to the 40k Grognard and appeal to those looking for something similar, in function, playstyle and attitude, yet different and not explicitly tied down to the extremely narrow narrative tones of 40k setting such as the recent 40K:Kill Team or Necromunda. The profiles, with renamed statistics are very much the same as Rogue Trader / Warhammer 2nd - keeping the Leadership, Cool, Intelligence, Willpower - and expanding on their use to make them more . There are familiar equipment lists and several archetypal species statlines - these are given within the lightweight "Unified Space" setting, which like the original Rogue Trader is pretty much a hodge-podge of sci-fi sources designed to enable you to tell your own stories, and easily convert from one fictional universe to another as you'd expect from a generic game.

It's easy to recognise what the Unified Space the creatures might represent from other universes - alongside both stalwart and scummy  humans there are even Necron and Tau types for those interested. So you can easily stat-up pretty much any model you have or want to make by deciding what kind of creature is closest to it, and selecting the kind of weapons it is armed with and keeping this all consistent. Renegade Scout suggests estimating force strength and judging whether the forces appear fair. There is a similarly a relaxed attitude to creature creation, where just tweak one of the example profiles to make a different creature. As someone who advocates for well thought out and predictive points systems in wargaming, I find this is a bit of a shame, but I appreciate such interests are extremely niche.

Renegade Scout Infiltration Games

The 170-odd pages of rules cover an awful lot, there several specialist troop types, Jump Troops, Fire Teams, Swarms, Cavalry, off-table heavy support weapons. There are dangerous and deadly Terrain tyes and various Flora and Fauna, some of which will be familiar to Rogue Trader players, and others adding new twists. There is a Psionic / Magic phase and attendant powers (graded in 4 levels) rather nicely titled Wyrd, with a fun critical failure table and a serviceable list of powers (from psionic blasts, to healing). While the focus of the game is small squad and character actions, there are some lightweight vehicles rules - much simpler than those presented in Rogue Trader, you won't need to work out acceleation, deceleration speeds and turning circles. This might lack the crunch for a dedicated heavy armour game, but again has an entertaining critical failure table to ensure the pushes the story forwards.

By far the biggest highlight for me is the 'Problem Solving' section, here Profile characteristics used to determine outcomes - so if you want to break down a door, roll under Strength, if you want to pick the lock, roll under Intellect, use modifiers if the problem is more or less difficult. This kind of streamlining, rather than tagging on a slew of special skills, rules and keywords to model actions is an elegant solution. Renegade Scout goes on to provide a number of useful examples, like using stolen communications equipment and barricading doors that not only illustrate the rules system but help provoke narrative scenarios and inspire the kind of games that the 'there is only war' crowd don't. It's a lightweight flexible framework that successfully expands the core engine beyond just shooting and punching stuff, towards more action, adventure and discovery without bogging the rules down or overcomplicating the game, and easily lends itself to improvisation.

Renegade Scout also has guidelines and advice on writing and running different kinds of scenarios and campaign games, as well as optional, advanced rules, many of which belie more of a nu-school game design philosophy, taking some of the better innovations of more recent game design and adding them to the core.  There is a skills system based on special rules to supplement the statline tests and provide further diversity of character and troop types,  and a Decision Point system that can be spent to invoke special rules and abilities, much like how Command Points and Stratagems/Tactics work in 40k 8th Edition/Killteam, where a certain number of points are generated each turn and these can be spent on activating special rules. These are flagged as optional but well worth playing with - Renegade Scouts modular approach encouraging experimentation and rules tinkering.

Renegade Scout: aliens on the battlefield

My biggest gripe, actually has very little to do with the game itself - unfortunately the miniature photography doesn't credit the manufacturers of the models, or note what ranges they are from, or who painted them.   On the one hand it is refreshing to read a sci-fi miniatures ruleset that doesn't exist primarily as a sales catalogue, on the other hand, there are some quite cool aliens I wouldn't mind seeing more of. Speaking of models, there is, in grand old Rogue Trader tradition, a modelling and painting section, with some solid advice on getting half decent looking terrain and models on the table quickly so you can get on with playing a game, rather than posting 4K Ultra HD tilt-shift digital photographs on Instagram and dreaming of winning Golden Demon competitions.
If you're hankering after a version of Rogue Trader that gives you narrative skirmish gaming, but with considerably little less 'clunk' in the form of table referencing and taking a steer from modern trends in tabletop gaming. Or if you're new to tabletop miniatures gaming, and perhaps not convincefd of the "there is only war" (i.e. there is only 'combat') schtick or want something more generic and not explicitly tied to one specific science-fiction universe, with a little more RPG-focus that encourages you to tinker with the rules a bit, and not treat them like the holy gospel, then Renegade Scout might just fit the bill.

Renegade Scout is available from Wargames Vault, priced $19.99 / £15.54

Friday, 17 August 2018

Hordes of the Auld World

A look at the graphics supporting Red Box Games Hordes of the Auld World Kickstarter Campaign, which s aims to get a range of 28mm Modular Orc and Goblin miniatures produced in high quality plastic.

Main Header

Main Kickstarter Banner
Red Box Games Orcs and Goblins are a crude, barbarian, primitive animalistic peoples, not really given to the arts beyond exercising raw physical violence against their foes.  With multiple and modular models on offer, showcasing just one or two to make a bold, dramatic image misses out on the full range, while trying to cram in every variation visual.  Instead the banner loudly shouts 'evil monster!', let's you know it's miniatures, then rewards curiosity with the full product unveiling down the page. 

 "The Face of the Orc God" motif, developed as a stylised cave painting based on angular geometrical forms and rough edges, combining orc, skull, beard, tusk-fang and horn elements to express the primitive attributes that the Orcs might worship.  The kind of symbol that might appear daubed and scratched on an Orcish menhir in the blood of their slain enemies, or painted and scraped in clay and woad by Goblin Shaman on their crudely constructed shields.

Box Set Graphics

These are designed to give an 'at a glance' overview of what you get for each pledge-level.  The silhouette being drawn from the original metal miniatures that the plastic versions will be based on. 

The "Face of the Orc God" motif appears as a watermark on the box set graphics to reinforce the campaign identity long with the Red Box Games logo. 


By now it has become customary for Red Box Games Kickstarters to include a T-Shirt of the main campaign graphic. In this case, the Face of the Orc God . Again the graphic serves is to express the idea, rather than try to visualise the final product which will be produced when the Kickstarter ends.


A number of subheadings, featuring motifs that keep the same graphic language as The Face of the Orc God, perhaps demarcating different Orcish tribes. The two below inspired by the Red Eye and White Hand of the Orcs of Mordor and Isengard from J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of The Rings, tying them into the literary origins of the Orc species.

Production - the Orcish Eye

Add Ons - The Orcishhand

Red Box Games Hordes of the Auld World runs on Kickstarter until 2nd September 2018.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Furui Hanmā: A Journey to the East. Part One

It has been a truth long acknowledged by Oldhammerists that the Warhammer World was cobbled out of Citadels existing historical and fantasy miniatures ranges, rather than created out of whole cloth. It weaves in elements such as Araby, Cathay and Nippon, not because there was some grand underlying world building motive, but simply because Citadel made miniatures of historical Arabian and Oriental figures, and Ye Olde Warhammer was ultimately designed as a marketing tool to sell them.

Early in 2018 Gideon over on Awesome Lies blog completed a series of excellent blog-posts covering the Warhammer Japan proxy "Nippon", covering ground such as the cultural milieu of late 70s early 80s japanomania Hai-Karate and Bruce-Lee movies, considering the published written sources on Nippon, from Warhammer 2nd Edition, Ravening Hordes, WFB3 and WFRP moving reviewing Dave Morris's excellent 'but not quite Warhammery enough' Tetsubo, to speculating what a successful WFRP1e Nippon could have been like.

This inspired me to examine the sculptural and visual sources, and consider what they might tell us about The East in early Warhammer, and perhaps describe However, there turned out to be a much, much larger quantity of Oriental based miniatures over a far greater period of time than I'd expected, roughly a five years worth of releases. Then in May Nico completed his massive and excellent Nippon Army, once again prompting me to revisit the East,  but still, no and more recently Whiskey Priest wrote up two excellent blogposts on Nippon, which again made me think I should really get this done, but the whole thing was too big and messy. So time to chop it up into manageable chunks.

In this first post, we focus on the Pre-Warhammer Citadel miniatures starting in 1982, and those released throughout the publication of the first edition of Warhammer (1983), with a slight reference to Forces of Fantasy (1984). These lay the foundations of the portrayal of Far Eastern themes in Warhammer, setting down some of the basic principles that are adhered to throughout it's development.

Fantasy Tribe Samurai (1982)

Orcs Vs. Samurai | Flyer 1982

The first set of miniatures we meet is one of the historical ranges that Citadel produced in the early 80s. Sculpted by Michael and Alan Perry, described as from the 16th Century Momoyama period. the 'Fantasy Tribe' Samurai. This is something of a misnomer, they are catalogued elsewhere as just SAM Samurai, there are foot Samurai, Ashigaru (including one armed with an Tanegashima) as well as horse-mounted Samurai and a pair of Warrior Monks who resemble the Japanese Sohei Buddhist Warriors.

The Sōhei - Saito Musashibō Benkei
The flyer clearly juxtaposes the Samurai against the Scimitar and pole-arm wielding Orcs. The drawings are posed facing each other as if opposing sides in a conflict and the overall effect is situating the historical Samurai into a fantasy milieu, perhaps an Orcish invasion of 16th Century Japan, or a re-staging of The Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Lord of the Rings taking place outside Osaka Castle. The Samurai simply replace or stand in for the traditional enemies of the Orcs.

As we will see, this mixture of Oriental and Western Fantasy themes will dominates much of the development and presentation of The East.

FA12: Fantasy Adventurers Ninja (1982)

FA12 Ninja!

Ninjas turning up in Citadels range of models is most probably in response to the appearance of the Assasin class in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1978), and here there is no doubt that the FA12 Ninja is being presented as a Fantasy Adventure gaming miniature, and not as a historicals gaming piece.

Ninja themselves walk a curious tightrope between historical fact and folkloric fiction. While assassins and spies certainly existed in feudal Japan, they would have typically been dressed in common garb so as to blend in with the people. The classic image of the figure in black garb may have come from “kuroko” - the stage-hands of Japanese Kabuki theatre, whose costumes rendered them 'invisible' on stage - and so their appearance became a visual short-hand for 'sneaky git' used by illustrators, rather than a historically accurate depiction of what Ninja may have actually worn.

Hokusai | 1817

Nonetheless, what the FA12 Ninja, hidden in plain sight amongst his fellow pseudo-medieval adventurers indicates is this mixture of eastern and western tropes, a motif we find yet again with our next model, Yamato Takashi.

Bryan Ansell's Heroic Adventurers: Yamato Takashi (1983)

Yamato Takashi | Bryan Ansell | 1983

Yamato Takashi | Heroic Adventurers Box insert
It is notable that while the first edition of Warhammer makes mention of "Medieval and Dark Age wamiors together with Arab types and fearsome Vikings." other than a small crop of the FTO/SAM advert used as an illustration for the 'Combat' section,  no mention of Oriental or Far East appears at all.

However, shortly after the publication, of Warhammer Citadel released a boxed set of miniatures entitled Bryan Ansell's Heroic Adventurers, sculpted, unsurprisingly by Bryan Ansell. This set included an insert of rules sheet for the then brand new Warhammer game. Amidst the Elric clones and pseudo-medieval tropes of early 80s fantasy, there is a Samurai. Yamato Takashi, making him the first published explicitly Warhammer Oriental . He has an authentic sounding name, Yamoto being the name for a region, dynasty, period and ethnic subgroup of Japanese and Takashi, in some writings meaning 'Samurai', indicating him as something of an archetype. This almost authentic naming strategy later gives way to the puns and historical references that early Warhammer is infamous for.

C05 Specialists: Martial Arts Monks (1983)

Like the FA12 Ninja model, filled a niche in the Assasin character class, the C05 Martial Arts Monk miniatures are likely to have been designed to meet the gaming requirements of the Monk character class in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook. 
C05 Specialists | Martial Arts Monks
As with the Samurai range, there are a few that resemble Sōhei, with their face coverings, at least one of which seems to be a SAM Warrior Monk  but with a slightly larger axe possibly remodelled due to casting or breakage issues, while the majoirty seem to be based on the tunic, trousers and shaved head of the Chinese Shaolin. 

Shaolin Monk

Considerable years before Quentin Tarrentino finally materialised Fox Force Five  in Pulp Fiction as the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad in Kill Bill vol. 1, Citadel were headlining an all-star all-female action Chopsocky  sub-range of miniatures in the C05 Mistresses of the Martial Arts in the First Citadel Journal.

Mistresses of the Martial Arts | Citadel Journal

Deadly China Doll |1973

The appearance of one of these Female Kung-fu artists continues through both illustration and advertising, turning her into something of a recurring Iconic Character for early Warhammer in the same way Riolta Snow or Gotrek and Felix will come to the fore in their respective generations.

May 1983 Flyer | Tony Ackland | I kung-fu the Nazgul in the face
Like with the Fantasy Tribe Samurai vs. Orcs flyer from 1982, the May 1983 flyer we see an 'oriental' character - the female martial arts monk fighting traditional Tolkienesque Dungeons and Dragons type monsters, this time being the robed and hooded Nazgul on a desolate hillside in a scene reminiscent of the Battle of Weathertop from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, where a Ranger and Four Halflings stand their ground against undead spirits, and it's hard to imagine that reference wasn't the original intent.

David Carridine | Kung Fu | 1972

Our female martial artist is somewhat reminiscent of David Carradine in the  early 70s tv-series Kung Fu in which a Shaoling monk of American-Chinese parentage travels across 19th Century America in search of his long lost brother. This theme, of a hero being trained in the Martial Arts in the 'east' then heading to distant western lands is by now a common trope in genre fiction, influencing everything from the 1970s Iron Fist to the 2010s Batman

Conversely it is possible to imagine Ringwraiths, Elves and Zombies could be fighting in the ruins of an ancient ruined Shaolin temple, it's hard to distinguish the architectural style from ruined masonry, but I think it's safe to say there are no self-conciously Oriental references being made in the images architecture or scenery.

Martial Arts Monk, with crossbow | Forces of Fantasy | Tony Ackland (1984)

The same Female Martial Arts Specialist also appears in Forces of Fantasy (1984) in the image above, of a medieval, 1960s style Robin Hood out-shot by our top-knot wearing, be-tunicked female assasin-monk. The trees and foliage don't seem particularly Far Eastern, so read it as a European fantasy landscape. The image is quite amusing on a number of levels, one is that he bowman is the exact same fellow used to illustrate the Shooting section in Warhammer 1st Edition, here being given his come-uppance in the Return Fire section of Forces of Fantasy.

Again, I have to say Tony Ackland is second to none for building these kind of narratives into his imagery, I don't know of any illustrator from the early 80s who really brings tabletop rules to life in such an effortless way, it's not just fantasy art, but fantasy art about gaming. There is also some irony in Robin Hood, folk hero fabled bowman of Ye Olde England being out by a female Eastern Martial Artist with a crossbow pistol, symbolically killing off the old well worn fairy-tale, usering in a new dynamic era of Fantasy!


Before wrapping up what this means for Warhammer, it should be noted that the East-meets-West themes are by no means unique to the Citadel ouvre in this period. In AD&D kung-fu monks, Ki-Rin, Ogre Mages and Samurai Hobgoblins in lamellar armour rub shoulders with Orcs, Elves and Dragons,  and fan-made classes for the Ninja and Samurai in D&D appeared very quickly in the mid 1970s. Citadels ranges were designed to meet this demand from fantasy gamers, as much as they were to provide historical wargamers with suitable miniatures.

To summarise we have miniatures:
  • Samurai
  • Ashigaru
  • Tanegashima
  • Sōhei Monks
  • Shaolin Monks
  • Mistresses of Martial Arts
  • Ninja
Then if we examine the relationships with other factions they are portrayed alongside:
  • Samurai Armies fight Tolkienesque Orc Armies.
  • Samurai allied with medieval fantasy adventurers.
  • Samurai fight against Chaos Marauders
  • Ninja appear alongside medieval fantasy adventurers.
  • Shaolin Monks fight against Tolkienesque Undead.
  • Shaolin Monks allied with Tolkienesque Elves and Rogues.
  • Shaolin Monks kill Robin Hood.
  • Shaolin Monks can be male or female.
  • Oriental types appear in Western Landscapes.
  • Western types do not appear in Oriental Landscapes.
There is a clear direction being set here, the Orientals, Samurai, Monks, Ninja are allied with the traditionally Lawful / Good tolkienesque tropes fighting against the monstrous Chaotic / Evil Undead, Orcs, and Chaos, and also the chaotic-good Robin Hood, they are Heroes and Adventurers, not monsterous.

If we extrapolate from that idea, the very early Warhammer world is one in which Questing Knights are perhaps just as likely to be fighting great Yokai as Samurai are to be found defending isolated villages against marauding bands of Orcs, where Mistresses of the Martial Arts rally Wood Elves against the sorcerous powers of the Undead, and Ninja are sent against the daemonic servants of Chaos.  This is perhaps a world where global travel, while fraught with danger, excitement, and adventure, is much more common than the historical analogue at a similar point of technological development, and the fantasy gaming possibilities that such a milieu afford are ripe for development.

Overall, the idea that Fantasy in general, and Warhammer in particular of the early 80s was primarily concerned with reproducing a Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy Europe is evidentially mistaken, no doubt some groups of players took that stance, the attitude at Games Workshop and Citadel evidences a much broader pallet of references.

Next Time, on Furui Hanmā: A Journey to the East... It's 1984, and everything explodes. C05 Specialists transmute into the C05 Oriental Heroes, there are strange new models, new boxed sets,  historical heroes figures emerging from the mists of time, and the grimacing face of Oriental Evil is revealed...

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Battle Masters: Rethinking Iconography

Further on the journey of remastering the MB Games / Games Workshops board wargame Battle Masters.

Having played two games I'd already decided that the addition of the move frequency stat needed to be done for further testing purposes. This means updating and reprinting the Battle Masters: Pocket Edition Prototype and also creates an opportunity to revisit the rest of what is going on.

The main problem with the icons as they currently stand, is that they don't really help communicate the tokens game role to the player. A great example of that is the Chaos Archer, which is just the head of a guy with a mohawk. The second problem is that several aren't very easily distinguished from each other, the Man-at-Arms and Crossbowman just look the same, as do the Chaos Knights and Chaos Lords.

What do you mean, you're not thinking 'archer' right now?

So my first approach is to draw full-body figures that attempt to visually communicate a bit more about the troops, and help differentiate between them, more like the icons of traditional Fantasy Hex and Chit wargames.

Rather than fiddle around with detailed character designs, at this stage I just want to block out the basic shapes and ideas, to ensure the information is being carried forward and the images are readable. Has to be remembered that the tokens are only ½".  Once the basic concepts figured out, the design silhouettes are settled, these can be worked up, detail defined and forms finalised - still plan on using white-on-black for the Evil side and black-on-white for the good.  Overall  have the forces of  forces of light facing right and the forces of darkness facing left, going against natural reading direction, rather than with it. Not only does this makes them more sinister, but reinforces the difference between the two sides.

So these are my first thumbnail roughs of a "Fantasy Dark Ages" silhouettes for Battle Masters, ditching the late middle ages, central European Warhammer Empire tropes. I'd be lying if I said I spent more time drawing them than writing this blog-post. I wanted to visually express that the Knight gets more moves than the Lord, so the Knights horse is at a trot, and the Lords is standing to attention, as well as detail the arms and armour, the crossbow doesn't quite read as clearly as the archer, but there is no getting away from that without replacing the whole figure with just a weapon icon, which is just a bit too abstract. 

The Evil Side of Evil Darkness, presents a great opportunity to go back to the original imagery of Warhammer from the early 80s rather than the tired and derivative 1990s designs that Battle Masters was based on. The silhouettes are largely inspired by 'pre-slotta' figures, such as the Chaos Broo for the Beastmen, and the gangly C16 Orcs, an C30 Amazonian Tribeswoman seems to have crept in as the Archer, and the shadow of Uthmog Elvenblade makes an appearance as the Chaos Warrior. In our games Gorefist has become a female character, so a Lady McDeathMorganna Le Fay,  Narnian White Witch type or perhaps something inspired by John Blanches gothic-punk use of fetish tropes. I realise this is fallen into the trap of portraying the feminine as irrational 'chaos' but there we are.

And there I stopped. 

The roughly drawn figures all seem to work as intended, a bit of rifinement up here and there and they'd be done. But something wasn't quite right, and it bothered me, so the rough thumbnails were put aside, while other more pressing matters were attended to. Then it occured to me that the problem wasn't in the drawings, but the design direction of Battle Masters itself.

Battle Masters presents a conflict between a multi-racial, diverse force (orcs, ogres, goblins, beastmen, men) against a mono-racial ethnostate (men men and more men), and uses the cliched tropes of 90s fantasy to code the ethnostate as goodly 'human', and the diverse state as an 'unnatural' evil. The arbitrary nature of this coding is made all the more clear when there are no mechanical differences between a Beastman and an Orc, they just look different, wheras the Men are only visually differentiated when there is a mechanical requirement. So the representative scheme across the two sides is not equally applied - and diversity is only used to represent evil. Looking at the lines of silhouettes of the two factions made the uniformity of the good and the diversity of the evil even more apparent.

This good vs. evil = ethnostate vs. diversity mytheme isn't one that I'm interested in reproducing, at all. In fact, quite the contrary, but not only are such clumsy ideological constructions tedious in their own right, the heroic portrayal of monocultures have little to do with the traditions of Fantasy literature.

Pauline Baynes | Fellowship of the Ring

In Tolkien's Middle-earth it is the multi-racial, multi-ethnic alliance of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Eagles, Ents, Hobbits, Woodwose, Oathbreakers, Rohirrim and Gondorians, that stand against the evil mono-racial ethnostate of Orcish tribalism and their Nazgûlian supernatural overlords.

Pauline Baynes | Aslans Army

In C.S. Lewis, Narnia,  we have centaurs, satyrs, fauns, and a menagerie of talking animals against an equally diverse roster of Evil under the White Witch (except the profoundly racist A Horse and His Boy).

Druillet | Mercenary Army

In Flaubert's Salammbô the mono-cultural Carthage is portrayed as the corrupt and spiteful enemy and it is the leaders of the multi-racial Mercenery Army of Campanians, Greeks,  Iberians, Lusitanians, Balearians, Gaetulians; Gauls, Libyans, and Nomads, who garner our sympathy.

I could go on, from the expected diversity of the average Dungeons & Dragons party, to the diverity described in the original Warhammer scenarios, Sven, McDeath, Lichemaster, to the heroes of Star Wars vs. the monolthic Empire, to the multicultural crew of Star Treks vatious Enterpises. Different people work together to overthrow evils of the world, rather than evil being whatever appears to threatens a single homogenous group.

Despite all this, we ended up with this insipid racial monoculture nonsense dominating fantasy wargaming from the 90s onwards, with the Codexes and racially determined Army Books, and here we are with Battle Masters. As I'm re-designing the icons anyway, it seems like a golden opportunity to go back to the literary roots of Fantasy to diversify the racial profile of the Goodly side, and also, perhaps draw the 'technology' more towards the Dark Ages.

Out goes the Mighty Cannon and in comes a mad greybearded wizard with random magic - his rules would be the exact same so his magic would destroy friend and foe alike, a dangerous Odinic wanderer choosing the slain from the battlefield. The Crossbowman becomes a Gnome, drawing on gnomish tinkerers, the Archer an Elf (what else), and the Knight a Centaur.  The King holding up his magic sword as a bare cross might be a little over-egging the Narnian influence (see also Valhalla Rising) and end up looking more like Van Helsing than King Arthur, it may be Joan d'Arc figure to counterbalance Gorefist.

The more diverse line not only looks better (well except my dodgy centaur!) but also allows for a more imaginative fantasy narrative to emerge.  Having almost settled on the concepts for the diversified goodly side, next decision is whether to pull the evil side inline, have the massed uniform  perhaps all Beastmen or all Orcs, or maybe the Undead as they're unequivocally evil (except in Tolkien, of course), and just use variations of weaponry and size to distinguish between the mono-racial forces of darkness.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Sorcery: FAL and the Three Musicians

Once again we compare and contrast, a 1980s Gamebook illustration by John Blanche and a 1890s Fairy tale illustration by Henry Justice Ford.

John Blanche | The Sorcery Spell Book (1983)

The Three Musicians | Henry Justice Ford | The Green Fairy Book (1892)

Face - eyebrows nose and ears, shoes, coat drapery follow the line around the coat tails, it is almost an exact copy, the pose, including arm positions. While retaining the same shape and structure,  the  ornament and pattern of the coat are quite different, Fords quiliting on the cuff and paisley giving the feel of an orientalist persian mystique replaced by Blanches bold, and rathe scruffy Mod two-tone cheques. The main difference in the removing of the second figure being ridden in the original , the removal of the club and the adding of a second leg which would be obscured by the figure in the first, and the flowing upward of the beard which gives the figure a greater impression of falling.

For other posts comparing John Blances illustrations in The Sorcery Spell Book and Henry Justice fords work in The Green Fairy Book see:

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Hexagonal Intermission

 There are many diverse and interesting Hex and Counter Fantasy games available to perusers of arcane eBay searches and time travelling ludonauts, many lurking in the back of my mind as I work on Battle  Masters Pocket Edition. As things have been a little commercial around these parts of late, with Oldhammer T-shirts on Amazon, Battle at the Farm logo for Fogou Models and Haalfling T-shirts for Games Sesh, it is probably about time for some "content". Here then are some Hex and Counter games that stand out for design interest or for relatively historically significant reasons.

hmm. tasty hexagonal based intermission.

Avalon Hills Outdoor Survival from 1972, the worlds first tabletop walking simulator (oh how I  miss the low-fi wonder that is proteus) No, it's not a fantasy hexmap, but it is cited by Gary Gygax in the original version of Dungeons & Dragons as a way of running wilderness adventures.

Now you too can pretend to Survive Outdoors
The landscape features strongly conform to the hexagons, there's no ambiguity, mountains inhabit one hex, forests another. Forested mountains an impossibility, rivers seem to meander around floodplains with no discernible source. The beige, orange and browns lend the map all the earnest dependability of a 1970s geography textbook, imposing an idealised matter-of-fact practicality onto a game of high-stakes wilderness survivalism.

The honour for the first published Fantasy Hex and Chit game goes to SPIs Sorcerer. Despite the extremely funky box art the map is a rather dull and disappointing affair.

Sorcerer SPI

Sorcerer Tokens - SPI 1975 
Sorcerer Map (1975)
I say dull and dissapointing, but in reality it's more like someone spilled a packet of hexagonal Trebor Refreshers. The lemon ones are the best.

The Fizz that gives you Whizz

There are few Hex-Counter-Fantasy-Boardgames are more significant or have such a long lasting legacy as White Bear and Red Moon by Greg Stafford and published by Chaosium. While the Runequest family of roleplaying games and the entire world of Glorantha are its obvious descendants, this Hex and Counter classic also had a massive influence on the development of early Warhammer.
"I recently bought 'White Bear, Red Moon', it's the best fantasy board game I've yet encountered. The creators have succeded in giving the cardboard counters real character; unlike the rather bland abstract format of SPI's 'sorcerer'. I'm considering situating by dungeons on the game map. It's a ready-made & very colourful political & geographical situation & also several interesting new monster types." 
- Bryan Ansell, The Wild Hunt, January 1977
It should be noted that Bryans comment about roleplaying in Glorantha predates the publication of Runequest as an RPG, although, not Ithink, it's development. Much of White Bear, Red Moon - from Boar Riding Orcs, to the Chaos Broo or Chaos Beastmen, to the Empire and the Dwarves use of blackpowder weapons all appear in White Bear, Red Moon.

White Bear Red Moon Tokens - Chaosium (1975)
The silhouettes are clean and clear, somewhat heavy and chunky, but clearly readable despite the four corners of statistics encroaching onto the picture area. While there's no attempt to express scale - a mighty Trachodon appears as large as a lowly Man-Beast, the visual differentiation between types make it extremely clear.

White Bear Red Moon Map - Chaosium (1975)
White Bear, Red Moon was republished as Dragon Pass but also had a sequel before that, Nomad Gods. Spot the buffalo. The light-blue sage green and brown, while mint-choc-chip ice cream, or is that verdigris and copper, or eau de nile and burnt umber, remains quite fresh and contemporary.

Nomad Gods Map - Chaosium 1977
Nomad Gods Counters

Barbarian is an  'entry level' hex-chit fantasy game by Ian Livingstone published in White Dwarf #15 (Oct/Nov 1979) and reprinted in Best of White Dwarf #1. It's a two player game, where the single adventurer has to recover a magic shield and sword from the monster-filled wastelands, while player two has to stop them with gangs of various monsters. The counters are servicable but the maps reliance on texture to communicate landscape lacks clarity or character.

Barbarian - Games Workshop 1979

Melee - Metagaming 1977
The tokens by Liz Danforth for The Fantasy Trip: Melee are easily the neatest and most elegant designs of any of the counters I've come across. The 3 tone images are really clean and the silhouettes easy to parse and full of character. I'm looking at the above image on screen and they must be about 4mm across and the tokens are clearly identifiable and distinct from each other. It's also great that everyone is wearing flares. That kind of commitment to contemporary fashion in the fantasy milieu is to be lauded. Similarly the brown and orange and purple and tan colourways of the map just ooze 70s retro charm. Steve Jackson has recently re-aquired the rights to The Fantasy Trip. Expect a relaunch through kickstarter sometime soon.

Wizard - Metagaming 1977

Lords of Underearth - Metagaming 1981

Dragons of Underearth

Divine Right - TSR - 1979
The Divine Right map by the legendary Dave Trampier is probably the pinnacle of fantasy hex-maps, full of quirky charm, mystery and a grimy swords and sorcery vibe.

Divine Right map. Love this.
The combination of cities and temples as silhouettes and the sparce graphic marks indicating hills and trees to represent forests and mountain ranges, in the Tolkien tradition, but looser and more gestural. The bold colouration defining the domains as a political map, and is the only example of this kind of symbolic use of colour here, giving it the feel of a psyhedelic black-light poster seen through a heady fog of eldritch vapours.  The hand lettering, confined to hexes for locations and stretching across areas for regions is at once classical, referring back to roman models and immediate with it's own haphazard, caligraphic personality.

Swords & Sorcery SPI 1978
Swords & Sorcery SPI 1978

War of the Ring SPI 1977

War of the Ring
Long before Warhammer blighted the universe Games Workshops original fantasy wargame was Valley of the Four Winds (1980) by Lewis Pulsipher. Miniatures were available, made by Minifigs, but there's no real way of using miniatures in the game. While the background story, the miniatures design and the game itself are all quite spectacular in their own way, the material components of the game fall a little flat with its near solid blocks of conventionally naturalistic colours.

Valley of the Four Winds

Barbarian Prince - Dwarfstar Games (1981)
Barbarian Prince is available as a free downloadable print and play from Dwarfstar Games It combines elements of solo gamebooks as well as map exploration - the Tolkien Quest books not dissimiar.  It's a format I've been tinkering with a simpler Rogue Trooper based game for a while, but Barbarian Prince is really fun and well worth looking at in its own right. Also uses Bob Newmans 'Odin' the same typeface as one of the several Asgard Miniatures logos they went through and Richard Halliwells Reaper wagame rules for added 70s ultra-heavy muscle-car type cool.

Barbarian Prince Map

The map itself has something of J.R.R. Tolkien's illustrative map style popular with fantasy cartographers, little mountain peaks and stylised forests. Like Outdoor Survival before it, the landscape clings to the hexagonal structure.

You can go off the beaten track and explore even more of the wonderful world of Fantasy Hex and Counter games via a custom advanced search on Board Game Geek: Hex and Counter Fantasy games published between 1970-1985