Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Weekly Update For Sunday, July 27th, 2014 - A Daughter In Residence, and TMP, WisCon, & MZB: The Scandals That Keep On Giving

The Lava Lounge, in full cry

Well, here we are; another week gone. I have been busy all this week with getting Fourth Daughter collected from the airlines - it's been a worrying week for air travel - and settled in. The Chamber of the Daughters is working out nicely, what with the new ceiling fan (recovered from the office, where it was never used due to the blizzard of papers blown about - ya think?) and furniture relocated from all over the house. It's comfortable, she says, and very cozy.


Fourth Daughter has also been very busy doing mysterious and arcane HTML stuff with the Missus, getting the old files for what was going to be the game group website ( from several years ago, and now oudated) revamped and ready to go on-line for the new website for my book, "To Serve The Petal Throne". She and her delightful husband did a bunch of custom graphics that they think encapsulate the fun and games we practice here in the basement, and in turn what we did all those years ago out at Phil's.

Fourth Daughter was also one of the people who took care of Phil during his last illness, and got to know him pretty well; her design tries to capture just how much fun Phil could be...


I am making progress in getting the game room ready for my Google+ hangouts and games. I finally got all the CAT 5 and 110-volt cabling run, and the new outlets and jacks installed. The wireless router is also up and running, after being tested for stability and signal strength, and we're well on our way.


I am still making short appearances on various Internet sites, to mention a few things like my Braunstein videos, but I'm not doing anything like I used to be. I just don't have the stamina and the time, I am sorry to say. I do maintain a 'watching brief' on quite a few sites, but that's through the aid of what I guess are called 'bots'. (Or something.)


The screaming, shouting, weeping, wailing, writhing, and fainting in coils over diverse and sundry sordid scandals continues in various corners of the Internet. The Miniatures Page and trans people exploitation controversy, the WisCon sexual harassment debacle, and the Marion Zimmer Bradley abuse scandal are all over the place, and I am trying very hard not to get depressed over them. I know more then a few of the various people involved, and I find it all pretty awful to look at over my morning  glass of juice.

If you don't mind, Gentle Readers, I'll try not to be covering these kinds of 'current affairs' stories; I assume that you are all smart enough to search out the information for yourself, and make up your own minds about what you see. I would, with your indulgence, like to get back to what I enjoy - my writing, my model-building, and telling you about Phil and his wonderful creation...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - A Short Digression: A Look Backwards In Time to The 1970s...

Lurking in the shrubbery...
It's been a busy week; Fourth Daughter (signed and numbered limited edition number four, in a limited production set of five; sure to appreciate in value and highly collectable!!!) is now resident in the eldrich Chamber Of The Daughters (part of module DA13, "Household Dungeon Crawl", featuring Gronan of Symmaria) and I have some time to post again.

If I may, I'd like to take a short digression into the past; there was a comment on the previous post that I thought was excellent, and really needed a much fuller answer then I think I gave in my reply to the comment. So, here we go...

(From Virche hiDune July 21, 2014 at 9:25 PM)

Isn't frontage of a model also to critical to its facing?

(Chirine ba Kal July 22, 2014 at 7:00 AM) Here's my elaborated and expanded reply:

Good point - thank you!

First off, the 'tradition' in miniatures rules, back in my day, was that "frontage" and "depth" indicated the physical space a formed body of soldiers would take up on the game table, according to the ground scale of the particular rules.

There was, and probably still is, a lot of time and effort devoted by writers of historical miniatures rules to trying to figure out just exactly how much ground a body of formed troops occupies; And, in a lot of rules, the shape of the troops' formation must also be taken into account; in general, melee-armed troops have deeper and narrower formations in order to take advantage of mass in shock power, while missle weapon-armed troops generally have wider and shallower formations. I should also note that later rules sets, like the marvelous "Compleat Brigadier", were written after the historical re-enactment people started actually trying to move bodies of soldiers across the ground and bring their weaponry to bear. This is especially true of the gunpowder periods - military formations tended to be a lot wider (unit fronts) then deep (units with men in ranks) in order to use their weapons more effectively.

In historicals rules, ground scale and figure ratios are very important, especially as one uses larger and larger formations on the table - a 'man to man' game has very different needs then a battalion or regimental sized game, and the on-going quest for 'realism' and 'accuracy' drive a lot of the provisions in these rules sets. Fantasy games, on the other hand, have diverged from this to some extent; GW's "Warhmmer" rules, for example, largely ignore the issues of ground scale, figure to soldier ratios, and base sizes in favor of simply putting on a good game that plays quickly and provides as much fun and excitement for the players as possible.

I should touch on the topic of 'basing', here; most miniature figures will simply not stand up on the little 'pillows' of metal that they are often cast on - and quite a few modern figures don't have even these, as the 'slotta base' has taken over in many lines. These tabs make the figure much easier and cheaper to produce, as they save metal, casting time and labor, and the plastic bases are much cheaper to manufacture.

Back in Ye Olden Dayes, figure bases were sized according to the specific needs of the specific set of rules, with little or no standardization in the industry, and were almost always squares or rectangles. (Artilery units, in many black-powder rules, were based in triangles that showed the arc of fire of the weapon.) Role-playing games largely ignored all of this, and the person doing the figures for games usually just settled on a standard base size to make it easier to get stuff on the table.
"Facing" was which way those soldiers were looking - normally, we based our figures with the little lead people's faces looking out from the narrowest side of the base, which we assumed to be the "front" of the unit - which is was, in most sets of rules at that time.

I standardized on 25mm x 25mm bases very early on, and have now gone over to laser-cut 25mm x 25mm round bases for my human RPG figures, with base size adjusted to suit the larger or small creatures and other 'NPC types' that appear in my games. This leads to the subject of 'facing'...

"Facing" was which way those little lead soldiers were looking - normally, we based our figures with the little lead people's faces looking out from the narrowest side of the base, which we assumed to be the "front" of the unit - which is was, in most sets of rules at that time. With square and round bases, we assume that the direction the figure is looking is the 'front'; off each shoulder (assuming a human figure, for the moment), are the 'flanks', and the figure is at a disadvantage in most sets of rules when beset by an opponent from these directions. The 'rear', as might be expected, is to the back of the figure, and any attacks from this direction occur at a comparatively high disadvantage.

'Facing' does count in our RPGs; we always specify that one or two of the party is looking over their shoulders to make sure that nobody is sneaking up on us, and we normally posted sentries who faced in all directions so that we'd get a little warning when we were about to be attacked. It made a huge difference, especially with very sharp GMs like The Big Three - in my personal experience, they'd seize on any sloppy technique in the party and make you all pay for being careless.

Does any of this help explain things?

Monday, July 21, 2014

More On The Braunstein - Questions From The Floor! - July 21st, 2014

The table for the night game...
I'm going to pause in my series of essays on running Braunsteins for a moment, and take some very good questions from the floor:

(From dervishdelver, on July 20, 2014 at 8:07 PM)

I have a number of questions Chirine. I’ll try to keep it brief.

You explained that movement is proportional to the size of the game you’re running. I like this. But how do you handle time in game? Is the measure of time simply winged or tossed since it does not have any real impact on play? Also, could you explain what “secret movements” are.

1] There's a nominal time scale, in effect the time it takes for a human to walk the 12" move on the table. We used to use one minute = one combat round in RPGs, and ten minutes = one game turn in large wargames. In practice, unless there's a really good reason to have one, a time scale is pretty much irrelevant to the game itself. In my games, over the years, we've always assumed that everything is happening at once - moves, shooting, melee, etc., so we kind of 'handwave' the time factor. It's never seemed to make any difference, so I tend not to worry about it.

2] 'Secret' and 'hidden' movement is how we try to simulate activities that players aren't supposed to see going on; I use lettered tiles, which I had out to players, and they can substitute these for any of their figures or units on the table. The chits move just like whatever they are supposed to represent, and the other players have to send somebody over to the chit to see what it really is; once 'spotted', the chit is replaced by the actual miniature(s). They can also be used as decoys, too; they represent 'noises in the bushes', 'disturbed wildlife', etc. for the purposes of the game, and provide a lot of fun for players as well as a challenge - do I or don't I go over there and have a look?

I also use these in 'straight' wargames, too; one of the funniest things we ever had happen was a game where one player had a chit moving around in the woods, and the opposing player sent one of their chits off to investigate. The two chits found each other in the woods, and much hilarity was had when the players were horribly surprised to find out what they'd tripped over.

Along the same lines, when dealing with scale, you mentioned unit frontage. Is it just a matter of keeping the basing consistent with all figures without getting bogged down with exactitudes?

This is an artifact of 'straight wargaming', where actual pace on the ground was a crucial factor in games, and thus had to be shown by the size base for the unit. I used this in my own wargame rules, for example. In RPGs, where one miniature usually represents one being, I use very standardized sizes - all humans have a nominal 25mm round base, for example - but you have to be flexible; not all figures fit on one base, so you pretty much have to have the base large enough to keep the figure from falling over. As long as you are consistent in your collection, you'll have no problems.

You also talked about the size of forces- “I give each player between a dozen to 20 figures to use”.
Does this mean that scale is irrelevant in Braunstein or that it is also variable and based on the size of the game being run?

In 'straight' wargames, there is often an assumption that the figures are representing a number of beings, in some sort of ratio. I used 1:100 in my rules, but again RPGs tend to assume that one figure = one being. I have found, over the years, that a single player can usually handle between a dozen and twenty figures on the table pretty well; so, I hand them a dozen to twenty beings, and it seems to work out quite well. You certainly could use a ratio factor in a Braunstein - the game is a style of play that emphasizes player interaction, more then anything else. The very first one that Dave Wesley ran was dine using a set of Napoleonics rules, so those units were representative scaled ones.

I’m very curious about how you use Chainmail to resolve combat. Are you using Man to Man or the Mass Combat tables? Or have you adapted the rules to your own tables, since each faction has a numerical attack and defense factor? Do you resolve missiles in the same way?

1] Man to man for small games, mass combat for large ones; the difference is in the number of figures on a side. Man to man works best when you have between a dozen and twenty figures on a side.

2] I also use my "Qadardalikoi" rules; the combat results table is different, but generates pretty much the same statistical results - weighted a bit to portray some of the particular aspects of warfare on Tekumel, of course. Longer weapons strike first, you get as many attacks as you have hands / appendages, and one or two other small differences.

3] Yes; it makes the game run a lot faster and is much easier for players to assimilate. You also have to choose between moving and shooting; moving cuts down on the number of times you can shoot in a turn.

Lastly, the goal of finding the two sisters involved collecting a ransom. In your game, is this an end in itself or do you run it as a campaign where loot can be used for other purposes?

Yes, to both. I run both 'one-off' games for people, as well as my long-running campaign; we've been at it now for over twelve years in the RPG campaign. In a 'one-off', it's an objective; in a campaign, it's a way for the players to pay off their losses and make money for new adventures.

Well, I guess I’ve chewed your ear enough for now. Maybe some of this will be answered in future posts.

Not a problem! I love to answer questions, and yours have been very good. Let me know if all of this helps, and feel free to ask more!

- chirine

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Weekly Update For Sunday, July 20th, 2014: Boats, Daughters, and Biopsy Results

The Art Minds wooden puzzle
(Left to Right: SwordSwinger, Staffswinger, Chirine, Fishface, Harchar)
(Not Shown: Hardtack, the purser; he's below, counting barrels)

It has been a very busy week, here at The Workbench, so I'll be as concise as I can.


As regular readers have commented; I am in the middle of a series of posts about how I run my 'Braunstein' games. I'll be back to this series as soon as I get some photos shot of some of the devices I use to help run games, like the lasers and periscopes.


I have a daughter coming in from Zurich on Tuesday, so I'm getting the guest room ready for her. She'll be here for several weeks, visiting her family and friends in the Twin Cities


I found a very nice little ship model the other day; it's one of the 'Art Minds' wooden puzzles, and looks very nice when built up. I have several of these kits; the Frigate (pictured), the Junk, and the Dragon Barge. I think the scale on these might be close to that of 15mm figures, but they'll work for 25mm; you want smaller ships for the game table anyway, so they don't take up all that much room.

I should also note that this ship, if it was full-sized, is actually larger then the full-sized sailing replica of the Nina that we had the opportunity to visit last year. Both Nina and Pinta are tiny, but they got across the Atlantic; they'd make perfect game ships.

This is a very trim little ship, and I'm really looking forward to getting her all glued up and painted; the photo is of her in her 'snapped together' form. I'll also probably work out how to waterline her, too.


The Missus had another biopsy, for another problem. This one came back negative, so we're only having to fight one serious issue. She goes in for her surgery on August 13th, and then the radiation therapy after that. She wants me to thank everyone for their kind words and support, too!


In response to a number of questions, I have posted a new page of Cautionary Tales, taken from my Unauthorized Autobiography. I hope they explain why I don't do conventions, and why I try to stay out of fannish feuds and away from fandom in general. Link in the left-hand column.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - Part The Third - July 19th, 2014 - Rulers, Numbers, And Crunching

Oh, dear...

Last time out, I gave the individual 'team' / 'faction' cards; let's take a look at them in more detail, if we could...


Moves on the table should be proportional to the size of the table. Back in Ye Olden Dayes, miniatures rules writers obsessed over 'realistic' ground scales, and how these affected things like movement, unit frontages, and other such topics. If you have a look at my own rules, "Qadardalikoi", you can see that I did this myself - we all did, as it was expected at the time.

Now, if I was playing a 'historical' game set in Tekumel, I'd do things the same way as I did back when I wrote my rules. For the Braunsteins, though, I 'loosen up' quite a bit to make the game play faster and more rapidly. So, I make the movement rates proportional to the game size - the bigger the table, the faster the movement rate. In this particular case, since the table is a nice big 120" long, I went with 12" per turn as the basic movement rate.

This is also largely influenced by the pile of 12" rulers I happen to have to hand; making the move a standard size that also happens to be the standard length of the measuring stick is very, very handy. I also have a huge lot of 6" rulers, which is why the shorter movement rates all tended to be portions of this smaller size.

Keep it simple!!!

Complication in the pursuit of 'realistic accuracy' tends to really slow the game down, and the players loose interest. By give up a bit of 'realism', you can keep things moving along at a smart pace - it's more fun for the players, as they have to think on their feet and stay alert.

Combat Resolution:

I went with that old reliable stand-by, the original "Chainmail"; the stats are more or less from those rules, and one resolves combat by simply subtracting the defense factor from the attack factor and looking on the results table. Quick, fast, simple, and consistent; it keeps things going.

If I can emphasize anything, it's BE DECISIVE! Roll dice, make a decision, and move on! Use your best judgement, and if you need to get your players' input. After the question is answered or the decision made, keep the precedent and run the entire rest of the game that way. That's why you are the GM / referee / Lord of Chaos - you are there to arbitrate and keep things moving. Your players will provide all the motivation and drive that you can handle, so go with the flow and ride the shock wave...

Force Sizes:

Back in Ye Olden Dayes, the gods were on the side of the Big Cohorts. Big units look great on the table, in my biased opinion, but are a pain to move and use by one person. A Tsolyani legion at full strength is 80 figures at a 1:100 scale ration, and works best on the table when it gets broken down into it's normal components - and a live player to run each sub-unit.

I don't do this for my Braunsteins; I give each player between a dozen and twenty figures to use, and make sure that each player has a roughly balanced force. For example, in the game we're using as an example, one faction has bows because they are slightly less powerful in melee; it also makes them worth negotiating with, an additional bonus in our games.

This also takes advantage of the current tendency of miniatures manufacturers to sell their wares in small units (often called 'warbands') which makes them both easier to use on the table and easier to paint. Howard Fielding, he of The Tekumel Project, specifically caters to this with his 'Warbands' and 'Hordes' ; it makes it very easy to make up units with this, and I really find it handy. The figures are great, too!


Right, then! Next up, game presentation and game aids! (I think I need to shoot some photos, hence the pause...)