Tuesday 10 December 2019

The Epic 40k Flea Circus

Stephen Lowe's film Flea Bites is set in his native Nottingham in the early 1990s. An unlikely friendship develops between Jason (Anthony Hill), 12-year-old boy with an absentee father and Kryst (Nigel Hawthorne) an impoverished elderly Polish veteran who lost his own son in WW2 and has made his home in England.  Kryst owns a box of tiny silver models with wheels which he used in a flea circus for children in a concentration camp, and Jason spends his afternoons shoplifiting from his local Games Workshop. The shared fascination for small things, worlds in miniature, allows a connection between the pair that transcends their differences.

There are some poignant images - Jason unexpectedly dropping a handful of 6mm scale Land Raiders - futuristic war machines - onto the topography of the Eastern Front being studied by Kryst in their local library. Kryst walking away, alone, through the mud-trampled ground of the shutting-up Goose Fair after Jasons miniature theatrical production has ended.

For lead-spotters there is a wealth of Games Workshop product on display, from Bretonnian army to Nick Bibbys Great Spined Dragon, and even a small but amusing scene of knuckle tattooed hobbyists hobbying hard in their local 3D Roleplay Hobby Game Store, and a wealth of other period detail (Rodney Mathews poster in Jasons room). It is fascinating to see Warhammer, and fantasy gaming in general (mention is also made of Dungeons & Dragons) brought into a social and narrative context beyond the excesses of 80s Satanic Panic and the business pages, and into the lives of ordinary people.

It is perhaps inevitable that coming from a playwright the story centres performance and theatre rather than gaming and interaction.  The juxtaposition of Krysts wartime experiences, grief and memory against Jasons innocent fantasy with its black and white fairy-tale morality mythical plane of pure ideology drives the learning curve of their friendship. One can almost hear an echo of the debates of serious historical and fantasy gamers down the ages. Well, from the 1970s at least.

My memories might not be quite correct, but I think I recall spotting the miniatures in the trailer and then watching the original broadcast. Flea Bites has certainly plagued my memory over the years (along with perhaps entirely false memory of an episode of Boon where Sabbats Blood for the Blood God can be heard from a car stereo of a serial killer). Epic / Space Marine, the game from which most of the models appearing in the film that Jason nicks from the shelves - came out towards the end of my interest in Games Workshop products, although our gangs weekly Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader campaign was still going on at that point, nobody else saw or remembers it.

Many of the problems faced by both protagonists - discrimination, social exclusion, seem as relevant today as they were then - all that has really changed is the quiet stories about empathy, community, hope  and the peculiar things that can connect diverse people have all but disappeared from the Thursday night television schedule.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Romance of the Perilous Land

A brief look at some of the border illustrations I produced for the Romance of The Perilous Land .

Unboxing Romance of The Perilous Land


Character Creation


Playing the Game


The World of the Perilous Land

Written by Scott Malthouse illustrated by John McCambridge, Alan Lathwell, and myself.

From the publishers blurb:
Romance of the Perilous Land is a roleplaying game of magic and adventure set in the world of British folklore, from the stories of King Arthur to the wonderful regional tales told throughout this green and pleasant land. It is a world of romantic chivalry, but also of great danger, with ambitious kings, evil knights, and thieving brigands terrorising the land, while greedy giants, malevolent sorcerers, and water-dwelling knuckers lurk in the shadows. As valiant knights, mighty barbarians, subtle cunning folk, and more, the players are heroes, roaming the land to fight evil, right wrongs, and create their own legends.

A review of Romance of the Perilous Land appears in Tabletop Gaming Magazine's Best Games of 2019 .

Romance of the Perilous Land is published by Osprey Publishing on December 12 2019 and available from Waterstones, Blackwells, Amazon.com and your local independent bookshop and purveyor of elf-games.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

[RFM] Basic Dungeon

Radio Free Magnamund back on the air with the low-resolution digital soundscapes of Basic Dungeon

Released on the infamous Heimat Der Katastrophe label, home of dungeon-synth legends Gnoll and Kobold, Basic Dungeon lurks in a dark cavern lost between a soundtrack to a home-brewed adventure game for the ZX Spectrum and a bedroom studio produced demo tape of 'Ambient Fantasy Soundscapes' advertised in the classified section in the back of White Dwarf magazine back in the days of yore when it was still a Dungeons & Dragons magazine.

Basic Dungeon follows in the dank and hollow footsteps of the TSR UK produced 1985 double vinyl  First Quest in binding ambient synthesiser music with specific cues and textual references to the Dungeons & Dragons game. Track titles such as 1D4 of Copper Coins, evoke game mechanics whilst sounding like something The Advisory Circle might sandwich between layers of samples from 1970s supernatural childrens television and Open University explanatory animation soundtracks.

The hauntological tangents are buried deep within the twisted confines of the megadungeon. 1 bit wizards summon ghosts of fantasy computer games that were never written, where incomplete text adventures lurk like grinning skeletal for...if loops of undeath. Memories of the witch haunted Grannies Garden cackle alongside mushroom addled orchestrated prog-horror of Goblin. Basic Dungeon successfully fuses both vintage analogue and lo-fi digital sounds to create epically minimal caverns of sound, spawning infinite unreleased sequels to Intellivision AD&D and it's pixel possessed ilk, punctuated with minimally animated low-res skulls floating over total party kills.

For your convenience and listening pleasure, the complete (?) Basic Dungeon back catalogue follows:

Tunnels & Treasures


Tunnels & Treasures II


Expansion Set Vol. 1: The Book of Spells


Tunnels & Treasures III


Expansion Set Vol. 2: Magic Items and Other Utilities


Perils In The Slums Scenario One: The Orcs Commune

While the limited edition cassette releases are all currently sold out, downloads can be purchased from their Bandcamp.

For other Radio Free Magnamund broadcasts on low-fi fantasy music see also:  Heroquest - ZX Spectrum / BoltThrower 8 bit ,/  BBC Micro 8 bit Dungeonsynth

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Düngen - generating random dungeons with Planström

Randomly generated dungeons are a great way to quickly build an improvised dungeon delving session or solo gaming activity for any Table Top Roleplaying Game or Dungeon Crawl Board Game.

Düngen is a very quick and easy to use random dungeon generator, build from Planström Dungeon Floor Plan System, and 100% compatible with Kosmoström Science Fiction Floor Plan System.

Düngen is designed to supplement a ruleset that covers combat and random encounters, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Fighting Fantasy, HeroQuest and is not a complete game in its own right.

Step Zero - Preparation

Firstly download and print Planström Dungeon Floorplans System Set 1 Alternatively if you prefer a Science Fiction setting, then consider using Kosmostrom Science Fiction Floorplans SystemDüngen also requires the use of a 4 sided dice or D4.

A recommended starter set may be:
  • 2 sheets of 1A Rooms 
  • 2 sheets of 1B Corridor 
  • 1 sheet of 1C Doors
Then cut these into various sized rectangles.

  • Corridors should be no wider than 2 squares, and no shorter than 5 squares.
  • Rooms should be a minimum of 3x3 squares.
  • Doors are individual 25mm x 12.5mm tiles. 
You will find Planström gives you a good variety of shapes and sizes.

Place the Rooms, Corridors and Doors into separate containers. [ZHU] Industries recommends the use of reclaimed vintage office folders for this purpose, but  Estelle 4 coloured 115 micron polypropylene cut-back sleeves or similar should also suffice should those not be readily available.

Different coloured transparent folders makes it easy to select the correct set of tiles when required. Once your Planström is prepared for use, and you have a 4 sided dice, you can begin to generate a Düngen.

Step One - Place a Room

Without looking into the container or trying to guess or feel which tile you may have, take one Room tile and place it in the centre of the table. If this is the first Room of the dungeon and you have Planström Floorplan System Set 2: Sheet 2B Stairs, to hand then you may add a spiral staircase in one corner to indicate the Düngen exit if you wish.

Step Two - Place Doors

Now it is time to discover how many Doors the room has.

Roll and drop one D4 (4 sided dice) onto the middle of the Room tile.

  1. The number indicates how many Doors this Room has. 
  2. The corners of the base triangle point to where the Doors should be located along each wall.

Take the required number of Doors from the sleeve, and place them on the outside of the Room tile as indicated by the dice position. On the roll of a 4, choose one opposing side to indicate the location of the 4th Door, always favouring the wall opposite the entrance. On the roll is a 1 there is only a single entrance door.

In the example above, a 2 was rolled, so two doors were placed as indicated by the dice.

Planström Dungeon Floorplan System: Set 1 provides you with several varieties of Doors: 

  • Open
  • Weak Wooden Door
  • Strong Wooden Door
  • Solid Metal Door
  • Portcullis
These may be given appropriate rules using your chosen Role Playing Game or dungeon crawl rules. If your prefered system is lacking such a feature, each type can be assigned a target number from 1-6 which must be rolled under in order to open successfully.

Step Three - Encountering the space

Once a Player Character enters the Room or has line of sight into the Room, it is time to decide what is in the Room. Your preferred rules-set may already have a system for determining this, however a simple system for determining the contents in a room is provided here for your convenience:

Roll a D4 with the following results:

  1. Empty. The room is empty - although any rules for searching for hidden features may still apply.
  2. Furnished: If you have a copy of Planström Floorplan System Set 2: Furniture and Stairs randomly take an item of dungeon furniture and place it in the room. Look out for exciting and useful descriptions of Dungeon Furniture in a future [ZHU] Industries product. Otherwise use the random treasure / item / trap from the ruleset you are using.
  3. Inhabited.  Use the random monster rules from whatever ruleset you are using.
  4. Inhabited & Furnished. Use both 2 & 3 above.
In our example, we rolled a 3, and then determined that the room was inhabited by an Orc using the Wandering Monsters rules form Fighting Fantasy, represented by a vintage 1980s Citadel ME51 Orc of the Red Eye miniature.

Our stoutharted Dwarven adventurer, Forrin Wokeupinashed, represented here by a vintage 1980s ME-82  'The Hobbit' Personalities Thorin Oakenshield miniature  enters the Room. Combat ensues, and was resolved using the Fighting Fantasy rules.

Forrin eventually defeats the Orc, and pockets 4 Gold Pieces (determined using the Treasure tables from Fighting Fantasy: Out of the Pit) . Forrin then moves to the door and using the Fighting Fantasy door rules, opened the portcullis, and exited the Room.

Step Four: Place a Corridor

Once a Player Character has managed to open a Door, and is about to exit a Room, select Corridor tile at random. This should usually be placed pointing away from the Room, with the short edge connecting to the Door. However, if the Düngen has sprawled towards the edge of the table, the Corridor may be placed parallel to the door, near the mid-point of the long edge.

Step Five: Place Doors

As with a Room, a D4 is thrown to determine how many Doors there are and where they are located. A Corridor will naturally always have one Door, so a roll of 1 means the Corridor only has a single additional door immediately opposite the entry door. 

Dice Drop on Corridor
Any number greater than one will have the doors position indicated by the corners of the D4.

In our example Forrin roles a 3, so 3 doors are picked and placed as so:

Placing the Doors

Once any Corridor rules have been applied, and any Door obstacles resolved, we return to Step One: Placing a Room, placing the Room as centrally as possible.

Resolving Spatial Conflicts

As a Düngen is being randomly generated, doubtless tiles. If a selected Room or Corridor cannot be fitted into the open space, select another Room or Corridor tile until one is found that can. Be sure to shuffle when placing these tiles back into their containers.

Occasionally no available Room or Corridor will fit into a given space. Some suggestions follow:

  • Place the Corridor parallel to the Door.
  • Cut down a Room or Corridor tile to fit.
  • Consider the Door a cupboard, place an Open Door behind it.
  • Door is a teleporting Portal
  • Door leads to a collapsed or caved-in section.
In order to avoid conflicts and overlaps in the first place:

  • Whenever possible, place Doors on walls opposite from already constructed areas.
  • Allow Doors to reconnect to old Rooms and Corridors as Secret Doors that have been found.
  • Allow Corridors to have blocked ends

Saving the Düngen

Düngen: The Adventure Never Ends
Once a game session is finished, you can simply photograph (#düngen #planström) or draw the resulting layout on a sheet of graph paper in order to record it. Once recorded you will be able to recreate the Düngen layout and continue the adventure in a future session. Alternatively you may consider that Ike Eyah the Mad Wizard who controls the Düngen has fallen asleep and his magical architecture rearranges itself every time a group of vagabond adventurers seek to defeat his forbidden domain.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Rogue Milkshake

Some rules for deploying Weaponised Dairy Based Beverages in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader.

Milkshake 40K

Milkshake costs 5PV. I don't know if that Milkshake is worth 5PV, but it's pretty good.

Some Milkshake orientated scenarios you might like to consider include:

  • The 'delivery' of a Milkshake to a corrupt planetary governor attempting a meta-political coup. 
  • Dealing with the fall-out of a Milkshake used in hasty self-defence against an Ogryn Leader.
  • A Milkshake in a yard as a mission objective for all the Ork Boyz to capture. 

Once an Imperial Commander has developed a taste for Jadeberry flavoured Grox milk, what next? There is always the danger of Milkshake escalation to consider. Perhaps Ice Cream Cones could be the next step up in the Dairy Arms Race. For the lactose intolerant, maybe other snack and fast food based weapons could be developed - unexpectedly popping an empty inflated bag of potato crisps as a sonic weapon that causes Panic, or opening very shaken up cans of fizzy pop. In the grim dark future there is only the limit of your imagination.

Although I hadn't really intended to do anything with it, Jason of Rogue Heresy  and Colin of The Leadpile were both enthused about the Milkshake 40k concept and requested a T-Shirt based on the Rogue Trader style artwork, so here it is!

Rogue Milkshake T-Shirt

Rogue Milkshake t-shirt available now from the Spreadshirt Zhu Shop in 19 flavours, including Orange and Asphalt, for a special introductory price of £15.99 - get them while they are fresh!

Monday 13 May 2019

Excellent Travelling Volume 10

Issue 10 of James Maliszewski's Tékumel Fanzine The Excellent Travelling Volume, for M.A.R. Barkers Tékumel adventure game setting with a colour cover by myself is now available.

The Excellent Travelling Volume #10

Issue 10, also includes my drawings of the Tinalíya and Urunén, alongside two of the Shúr Ésh, an original humanesque race for Tékumel created by James. Gameable content includes Tinalíya and Urunén as player races, six micro-dungeons inspired by The Power Maps of Glory artefact from The Empire of the Petal Throne, a city guide for the Shúr Ésh, and magical shields and armour.

Interior artwork by Luigi Castenelli, Dyson Logos, Alex Mayo.

The Excellent Travelling Volume 10 is available in the US and Canada from tetvzine.com and in the UK / Europe from Melosian Arts Council

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Otherworld Evil Adventurers

As they have now been released, I thought I'd share some of the concept art I've done for the FA7 - Evil Adventurers mini-range from Otherworld miniatures.

Before pencil was put to paper, had an initial discussion on direction with Richard Scott at Otherworld, this included referencing some classic fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons references you might recognise in the final pieces, and a list of race-class combinations in traditional Dungeons & Dragons style. The general idea was to produce an Evil adventuring party that a group of adventurers might meet, or as miniatures to represent an Evil aligned player character option. Obviously the miniatures have to be in keeping with the current Otherworld Adventurers ranges - in ready and marching poses, rather than mid-action, and with backpacks and adventuring gear, as befits a dungeon explorer on the tabletop. Whilst the characters were to be of evil alignment,  eschew the excessive skulls, and spikey khaös deth mutant grimdark dungeonpunk goth tropes, but rather steer more towards the classic 80s Dungeons & Dragons look that is the hallmark of the Otherworld range.

So the general approach set and character list I started on some rough sketch work, keeping things fast, loose and small. A couple of examples, sketchbook pages for the Evil Dwarf and Evil Fighter:

Evil Dwarf Concept Sketches
Evil Fighter Concept Sketches
These drawings aren't really fit for human consumption, they're not 'cooked'. They are working drawings defining the character and concept and a way of quickly refining a myriad of ideas towards a final outcome, in true 'back of a napkin' style. Each of the drawings are about 1" tall and for helping make broad-brush decisions about the character silhouette, basic pose, shapes and key features.

One of the design options for each character was elected from rough sketches to go forward to the next stage, with any further direction or options carried through to the pencil drawings, which I then inked by hand before being scanned and passed over to the sculptor, in this case Drew Williams of Satyr Art Studios  to base the sculpt the of the final miniature on.

FA71 – Evil Fighter in Plate Armour

Evil Fighter Concept Art

Evil Fighter Miniature

FA72 – Evil Cleric with Staff & Mace

Evil Cleric Concept Art
Evil Cleric Miniature

FA73 – Evil Magic User with Staff

Evil Wizard Concept Art
Evil Wizard Miniature

FA74 – Evil Necromancer with Staff

Evil Necromancer Concept Art
Evil Necromancer Miniature

FA75 – Evil Dwarf Fighter with Battleaxe

Evil Dwarf Fighter Concept Art
Evil Dwarf Fighter Miniature

FA76 – Evil Female Elf Assassin with Sword & Dagger

Evil Female Elf Assassin Concept Art
Evil Female Elf Assassin Miniature

FA77 – Evil Half-orc Barbarian with 2 Axes

Evil Half-orc Barbarian Concept Art
Evil Half Orc Barbarian Miniature

FA78 – Evil Halfling Fighter/thief with Shortsword & Dagger

Evil Halfling Concept Art
Evil Halfling Miniature
As I'm sure you'll agree Drew did an excellent job of translating my two dimensional line art into three dimensional miniatures, making small tweaks here and there for casting and refinement of the design, and I'm really pleased with how well these have turned out. 

These models were painted by Andrew Taylor - and it's great how the colour choices are spot on, some like the Evil Wizard are, of course, perfect and simply couldn't be anything else, in contrast the Evil Elf going full-on Drow, was a complete surprise, and revealed that her to be something of a gender-swapped Drizzt, which is great in itself and also brings to life the Otherworld ethos of taking classic iconography and giving it a fresh twist. The contrast between the cold and warm blacks on the Evil Necromancers layered robes are really quite skill full, and as a set they all look downright dirty and nasty.

Hope you've enjoyed taking a look at my concept drawings for the FA7# Evil Adventurers Series They are available now from the Otherworld Miniatures online store, priced between £5-£8.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

When Warhammer Was Radical

I'm very happy to send you over to the excellent We Are The Mutants to read When Warhammer Was Radical. 

If you're not already a regular reader over there, you probably should be:

We Are The Mutants is a weekly updated magazine focusing on the history and analysis of Cold War-era popular and outsider culture, with a strong emphasis on speculative (sci-fi, fantasy, horror), genre, pulp, cult, occult, subculture, and anti-establishment media. We cover everything from underground comics and post-apocalyptic fictions to ufology tropes and space disco.

WATM produce a lot of thought provoking and curious content, picking off the crust of nostalgia that accumulates around pop-culture in an erudite and enthusiastic manner, exposing the raw material underneath, covering everything from Japanese Transformers Advertising to British Ghost Train design.

When Warhammer Was Radical. mostly about how the political and cultural references in early Warhammer created an anti-establishment alternative to mainstream fantasy, producing a body of work diverse in its representation of gender, class and race. While no means unproblematical, early Warhammer actively engages with the colonialist tropes, eurocentric biases, sexist fantasy tropes and the political millieu that other fantasy games left largely unexamined.

If you enjoyed When Warhammer Was Radical and it has whet your appetite for more, several blog-posts I've written over the years go into more detail on some of the themes mentioned, may be of interest:

Also like to thank Michael Grasso and K.E Roberts, for accepting the pitch, providing intelligent and insightful editorial feedback, and publishing the piece.


I hope you've enjoyed When Warhammer Was Radical.  If you'd like to support the work we do at The Realm of Zhu, or elsewhere, consider dropping us a Ko-fi, buying some DIY floor-plans or treating yourself to a t-shirt. Thanks!

Thursday 3 January 2019

Greatest Battle Report 2018: The Winner!

It is with great pleasure I can announce The Siege of Graveskull as the winner of the 2018 Greatest Battle Report. As ever the competition was fierce, with many fantastic and varied battle reports being entered, but Airbornegroves Battle Report emerged victorious from the fray.

The game itself was an epic Warhammer 3rd Edition battle played out by a mighty warband formed by some of the finest wargames bloggers this side of the World Edge Mountains, featuring the mighty talents of:
and all photographed and written up in Airbornegroves inimitable style, with the epic tale told in the form of a comic book. It is an excellent Battle Report, but don't take my word (or the 33% of voters that chose it as their option) hop on over to Give 'em Lead and read The Siege of Greyskul for yourself.