Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A box from Germany with a mystery inside

So look at this... a box from Germany arrived today! What's inside? (Hint: It's not handtowels...)


Yep, another plastic, vacuum formed castle! I seem to enjoy collecting these, I now have 2.

However, the mystery is this... what castle is it and who made it?


The folks at GermanToys.de list it as an Elastolin castle with no known number, but I'm wondering if this is another ECO vacuum formed castle. I base that guess on my previous purchase from them of what turned out to be an ECO "Camelot". This looks very similar.

However, my 30 minutes of searching by images, then by names like Elastolin, ECO, etc, I came up empty on identifying this one. I'll keep an eye on Ebay, but so far, the only other one I've seen on the web was an auction awhile back and it had no numbers either.

It did come with some damage, but I'll use some appropriate glue on the cracks on the inside to reinforce the plastic. It doesn't matter, I got this sucker for less than $20US. It cost more to ship it.

So now my players will have TWO standard keeps/castles that were built by the Kings Engineers before the Doom.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

How I make Heraldry

There are a thousand and one websites on heraldry and it's peculiar Norman and English vocabulary, but when I'm looking for something to put on miniatures or I have a vague idea, there are two sites I use for the vocabulary and then the visualization.

First, the random heraldry generator at Donjon - http://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/random/#type=Coat+of+Arms

It can spit out some crazy looking combinations, but that's a random generator for you!

Now if you're like me, you don't eat and breathe the heraldic vocabulary, you really just want to see how this sucker's going to look on your minis or when you're describing it. So let's visualize it from what donjon spits out.

For that, I turn to Drawshield - http://drawshield.net/drawshield/create/

You can copy/paste the output from donjon into that thing and viola, you see what craziness those words creates for you. Plus, if you are grokking the vocabulary (or like me, you have "Heraldry for Non-Heralds" open...  ) you can start adding/changing colors and what-not.

For instance, on the examples above, donjon gave me "Per fess purpure and argent, a rose counterchanged", which gives me a purple/white(silver) background and then a clear rose. Well, I didn't like that, so I added the word "or" after "a rose counterechanged" and got what you see above. I am, though, breaking THE rule of heraldry, which is that you don't put metal colors on metal colors UNLESS it's a charge and you can split the color. And now you're looking at me like I'm speaking tlhIngan. (You see that I'm not caring too much right at this point...)

ANYWAY... hope you enjoy! I've been doing a lot of painting of troops lately, and figuring out the various heraldry of my Duchies. To the point where I've managed to free-hand some shield designs, take a look! They look funky close up, but awesome at tabletop range - which is what I paint for.

PS. If you get a chance, throw the folks at Drawshield and Donjon a sawbone or two... they deserve it for providing such cool resources!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Solo Game w/The Wife - The d30 Curse

Oh d30, how you love to giveth and taketh away. Especially in my 1:1 game with @thePrincessWife.

Last game, she rolls the d30 for damage to kill the "skin wearer" (doppelganger) in one shot. She rolls... a 2.

Much cursing and growling. She did eventually kill him. He was fleeing out a window and she chopped at him, causing him to lose his grip. 3 story fall. Splat. The End.

Other quotes from the game:
Her: "It's a trap. It's always a trap!"

Her: "I'm taking my sword with me."
Me: "So you're going to walk around in public heavily armed. That might raise some eyebrows."
Her: "I'll hide it... under my pink, light, silky cloak!"
Me: "Of course you have one of those..."

We are still continuing to play the solo game I started with her back in 2009, although it comes in fits/starts. We just have tons on our plate. I'm hoping actually for more time to play this coming Friday. Fingers crossed...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Miniature Photography with my Samsung Galaxy S5

I've been struggling a long time with photographing minis. I know the mantra - "MORE LIGHT!" and I've tried all sorts of different configurations and setups with my Canon PowerShot. It just took setting up the home-made light box, getting the tripod out, setting up the lights, all things... c'mon, man, I've got minis to paint, terrain to build and games to play!

TL;DR version - Make a white foamboard L for a background/light reflection. Get about 300 watts (equivalent) of daylight spectrum light on the figures. Get the figures close to the lights, but not too close. Set your phone to ISO 200, Exposure adjustment to +1 or +1.5 (whichever suits your eye) and take photos! Quick and easy. I did this with a Samsung 5S. Your camera may vary in settings, but you should be able to find quick/dirty settings that work decently.

Recently, I tried something really quick and I've gotten some good results, so I thought I'd share the "WIP" on taking photographs. I am still a rank newbie and as long as I get the point across with the photos and the minis don't look like complete crap, I'm OK with it.

I have an older smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy 5S. It's got a decent camera and it can certainly take enough pixels in to get a nice shot.

I've also got a homebrew light box that I built awhile back, using white foam board. Both of them get used in my setup. I also have an overhead light in my work-nook that is a 100 or 150 watt-equivalent LED daylight spectrum bulb. I also have two hobby lamps with 27 watt (equivalent to 100 watts) daylight flourescent bulbs in them. 300 watts should be enough to get some decent photos.

To feed my need for quick set up, I reduced my setup to a minimum. I use a small bucket of spackle to rest an L shaped background on, using something behind the back to prop it up. I shine one of the lights from the top and the other from the front/side. This puts the figures close to the light, and that white foamboard bounces the light off nicely to illuminate most of the model. Here's what it looks like:


So I've got the setup, what about the camera.

Well, going back to the rule of "MOAHR LIGHT" and remembering what I learned through painful struggle with the Canon Powershot, I looked for two settings on my smartphone camera app - Exposure and ISO.

ISO is basically how sensitive the camera is to light. With digital cameras, the ISO can be used quite powerfully to ensure that you get the max out of each pixel. There's a downside to ISO though - the higher the ISO, the more grainy the shot can become. So you have to find that sweetspot. Through experimenting, I knew that ISOs of 200 to 400 seem to be a good range for the Powershot, so I put my Samsung to ISO of 200.

Next is exposure. Since I don't have a lot of control over the shutter, bumping up the exposure is what allows me to make sure that I get more light into into the lens and CCDs of the camera. The CCDs are what pick up the photons of light and translate them into pixels. Since I can't do things like control the aperture and shutter speed on the smart phone (or I'm still an idiot and haven't figure it out...), I use the exposure adjustment to help with that. Tom's Guide To Hardware explains it like this: The S5's Exposure value menu item lets you manually adjust exposure (how much light the camera sensor is exposed to), ranging from an exposure value of -2.0 (darkest) to 2.0 (brightest). 

So with both of these things to tinker with, I started taking photos. They turn out great!

Here's one set of archers with the camera settings to ISO 200, Exposure +1 (left), +1.5 (right):


It's pretty obvious to my idiot eye that the photo on the right (or bottom if you're on a phone/tablet) is brighter and allows more of the color to come through. I was pretty satisfied that this picture is showing what I see with my own two eyes, same colors and brightness. The photos look pretty good (and my paint job isn't as bad as I thought!)

Here's another set of archers. ISO 200, Exposure +1 (left), +1.5 (right):


Once again, the picture on the right lets in more light and color, and looks pretty decent! (dammit, I rubbed off some paint on the center dude's shoe. That's OK, basing material will cover it. LOL)

The only thing I might do is get one of those little tripods you can put a smart phone on. I have electrician's shake in my hands and I'm sure they'd be better with the camera steady.

That's it! What do you think? Easy peasy and hopefully you can find a way to replicate my approach on your phone.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Preventing DM Burnout

A post that was linked in the Google+ OSR group caught my eye - "DM Burnout!" It's something that has happened to me in the past, although the "burnout" was just as much related to "Life is taking over my priorities and changing them" as much as anything else.

For me, burnout was/is when I hit a low point in my creativity, on top of doing something without any energy return. Or I have an extremely bad experience that suddenly exposes all the little annoyances and irritations that suddenly I just don't want to deal with it all anymore. This is true whether for gaming, for our teaching/presenting or other things I get involved in. It's those times when my Aspie kicks in and I want to nuke the site from orbit and find a new planet to live on.

When I restarted my campaign in 2015, after a 4 year hiatus due to a life project, I wanted to find a way to become a Steady-Freddie and not get burnt out. For me, that means two things - getting a positive energy return on what I'm doing and keeping things new and fresh. To do that, I needed to make some changes to my campaign, which I did, and now instead of mustard farming, my players are real heroes. It's still not easy and they still hate the Troll Mage, but my players are kicking ass and taking names these past two years, and it's made the campaign mean something to do.

But there's more. Another thing I'm doing is opening up the campaign so much that I constantly have new things to explore. The wargaming. The running of convention games in other Duchies. The shifting of games from 1:1 D&D to skirmish-wargaming D&D and back. It feeds my GamerADD to have all these different options.

Plus, for me, running sandbox style means my players are always up to something different, keeping me on my toes in what to think about. Finally, we meet about 1x/month, sometimes 2x/month. That keeps it from getting to grindy as well. Instead of "what are we doing THIS week", I appreciate that our time is limited, so I make those monthly games really count. If you're going to have players at the table, unless they *are* mustard farming, then have their actions mean something. Maybe not on a grand scale, but they can make a difference, for weal or woe, at any level and they need to feel that as much  as see it.

So far, 2 years into the restart, I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed - trying to paint 70+ minis and prepare some serious terrain for GaryCon and Little Wars, plus keep up with the wargames and D&D games in the campaign world. Hardly burnt out right now... more of "I don't have enough time in the day!"

This will probably be my last post of 2016. 2016 can go fuck itself, it's been such a shitty year in deaths within pop culture/science/academia. And also with the Back to the Future 2 movie coming true (Cubs win! Biff gets elected to WH!) (Ooo, I'll lose some Trump supporters on that one... heh...) and with some tragedies in my family and friends. I'm glad to see 2016 GTFO.

It's my sincere hope that 2017 brings us all good health, prosperity and joy/love in our lives. May you all have a Happy New Year and be safe!

Fight On!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays! I hope 2017 brings you all good health, prosperity and lots of love...

... and lots of time to paint and game!

This is from Dragon Magazine No. 56 - December 1981 - thought it appropriate, with joining the Ral Partha Chaos Wars team this year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Playing Chaos Wars in the Dark Ages campaign

My previous forays into learning Chaos Wars was geared mainly towards getting an understanding of the mechanics. Last night, I asked my friend and his son to come learn Chaos Wars and conduct a battle in the ongoing wargames campaign taking place in my campaign world. It was a wild, fun game and I think I've made two converts to the Chaos Wars system!

The back story for the battle...

The Duchy of Pisces was formed in 31AD after a series of tragic events struck the Duchy of Dawn. Dawn was thrown into chaos after the Yuligan family was killed and the lands were overrun by the Orcs and Goblyns coming from the Sithasten Mountains. The noblewoman, Caro Childress, established the Duchy of Pisces south of the Foamflow River and with the help of soldiers and supplies from the Southron Duchy.

This past Spring season, the Orcs streamed out of the southern Sithasten Mountains and captured the narrow land bridge that joins Pisces to the Southron Duchy! It was a bold move, but with the orcs overrunning the remnants of Dawn, this represented the next move in wiping out the humans in the Eastlands. Duchess Childress rounded up almost every available fighting man and woman she could find and has marched armies towards the Orcs. Despite a rainy fall that brought travel nearly to a standstill, the Piscean forces are in place. Now the probing and skirmishing begins.

The scenario for this battle was taken from Neil Thomas's "One Hour Wargames", which I've come to treasure not only for the rules, but for the scenarios and rules supporting them. This scenario, #4 - Take the High Ground, is perfect for a probing skirmish. The Red side (Orcs/Goblins) are holding a hill with a small force. The Blue side (Humans) come in force from the south to take the hill. The Orcs quickly send reinforcements from the north on the second turn. Victory is whoever holds the hill at the end of ten turns. Perfect!

Here's the setup, facing east. I'm using a Pedion terrain hill and trees, a Cigar Box mat and my crappy felt roads.

Here's the belligerents, ready to get on the table and get it on!

After a quick run through of the basic mechanics of Chaos Wars, Chris and Alex chose sides and began setup. Alex took the side of the Bestials and placed an Orc Infantry and Goblyn Archer unit on the hill. Chris set up his Human forces and combat began!

Right away, the fight is fast and furious for the hill. Alex pulled his archers back off the hill, and after getting flanked, the orc infantry suffered grievous losses and broke. For now, the hill was in Human hands!


Alex brought his Orc and Goblyn reinforcements straight down the road to take advantage of the extra movement. The ensuing scrum was described as a "jigsaw puzzle" as forces moved and flanked to get extra help.


For two to three turns, these scrums ate away at both sides until units started failing morale checks and routing. It also became an attrition of leaders, as Alex used the "Personal Challege" part of game to eliminate the Human Major leading the forces! This helped him as it forced the human pike to fail a morale check and they routed off the table - destroyed!

Thanks to some great dice rolls, though, Chris was able to defeat or rout several Bestial units and the pendulum swung back to the Humans. Soon, it was down to three Human units versus a depleted Orc Sword and Goblyn Horde unit, and both of those Bestial units broke. Chris pursued, continued to cause casualties (which prevents a rally). Given that there were only two turns left, I ruled that the Humans had won the day!


Between the influence of leader losses, morale losses and some good dice rolls for the humans, it was a crazy battle. It was not a done deal until the last couple of turns. And we hadn't included magic or war machines either!

As I told them, this battle will influence what happens between the Hashan Army and Orc Army of Gruznarz el'Ghattan. Every game counts in my campaign!

And I think I have two new converts to the Chaos Wars game as well. They had already bought dwarves and undead in the last Ral Partha Kickstarter, so the seeds have been planted...