Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Very Personal Note - Why Ral Partha Is So Much A Part Of My Life...

My leaden alter ego and his deck chair...


If I may, I'd like to take a few moments this fine morning to tell you why the return of Ral Partha s a miniatures company is so very important to me. I'll try not to be too boring...

When I first came to the Twin Cities in 1975, 'the miniatures hobby', let alone 'the miniatures industry' hardly existed in this country. What little gaming I had done had been with - gasp! - Tamiya and Monogram 1/35 and 1/32 models, played out on gym floors with Charles Grant's rules. Shortly after I finished high school, I discovered 1/72 ROCO Minitanks and Arfix packs of figures. My games were never the same, again; we could play on a real table, instead of the floor!!! Amazing!!!

And then I found out about The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe, located on Lake Street in Minneapolis. I discovered what there was of 20mm and 25mm metal figures specifically intended for use in war games; I didn't really like much of what was available, as I wasn't much into 'classic' Tolkein-esque fantasy and the games that were based on it. I did like 'historicals', and I enjoyed painting them - I did a set of all of the people I knew in the then-beginning SCA at the time, in all their heraldic glory. And then, one day, I saw some bright - lurid, really! - orange and green card headers on some poly bags with the first Tekumel figures from Old Guard in them. I bought some, then bought all of the available publications so that I could get the paint job done as accurately as possible; in short, I discovered Tekumel. I've been there ever since.

I was invited out to Prof. Barker's shortly after that, to help him paint his figures. I stayed, for quite a while; in some ways I haven't left.

The 'custom of the house' in our games out at Phil's, was that everyone playing was represented by their own 'personality figure', a term of art inherited from our wargaming. We needed figures on a weekly basis, and I had my hands full trying to keep pace with our adventures.

And then I saw some small boxes, printed with 'Ral Partha' on them; inside were figures like we'd never, ever, seen before. Finely detailed, nicely cast, and of all sorts of 'fantasy' subjects that fit in perfectly with our adventures in Phil's Tekumel. These figures very quickly became the standard for our game play, and I used literally hundreds of them for our tabletop game sessions. We didn't care much if the box was labelled "Trill"; for us, it was a fearsome Hra, the life-sucking undead of the Temple of Sarku; a "Hill Troll" was a Dzor, and as such to be avoided.

Some of these figures were immortalized in Phil's novels - there's a scene in "Man of Gold" where the hero and heroine are being chased along  a narrow ledge high above the floor in the Temple of Sarku by Vorodla, the flying Undead; Phil used as his models my painted "Goblin War Party"; three flying goblins with Indo-Persian weapons, helmets, and a buckler that was a perfect match to the one Phil had hanging in his dining room. I still have them; much loved, much played with, and much feared by my players. I found them some reinforcements, a few year back, and I'm getting them all up on clear acrylic 'flight stands' for our games.

We played, we imagined, we dreamed; and the little leaden figures from Ral Partha made our dreams come true as we ran our games.

I grew up, both as a gamer and a person with Ral Partha; those figures gave us some wonderful times and memories. When I heard that the company had shut their doors, I felt like I had lost both an old friend and a portion of my life.

Hearing that Ral Partha is back has energized my gaming and my painting. While that's great news for me, my players may not be so thrilled - back in the day, I used to study the new Ral Partha catalogs to see what Phil might be throwing at us next. He liked to see the looks on our faces as some new fanged horror showed up on the table, and I must confess I did love it as well; we had a lot of fun, seeing what he'd come up with next.

Ral Partha is back, and I think a lot of the old style of gaming that we so enjoyed 'back in the day' is coming back with all these little lead people...

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Quick Note On A Monday Morning - Ral Partha Information For You...

Gamers, gaming. This is what it's all about.


Just a short note, this fine Monday morning, to let folks know that I have started a new page over in the left-hand column for the information I'm getting from the folks at Iron Wind about the return of Ral Partha. Have look, if you will - I think you'll be excited!

I've been asked why I think this is such big news; put simply - and I'll have more on this for you in a later post - I grew up in gaming and as a gamer with Ral Partha. Quite a few of the miniatures we used out at Prof. Barker's were - and still are! - Ral Partha products; I used to have to scout the new Partha catalogs to see what Phil would throw at us next, as he'd order items up and then paint them in secret as a surprise for us. The Pe Choi and the Black Ssu were two such surprises, and led to some of the very best games he did with us.

I'll talk more about this shortly; in the meantime, I have to get the table top photo tent set up so I can get some photos of the samples... :)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Weekly Update For Sunday, April 26th, 2015 - RAL PARTHA IS BACK!!!

Photo and logo from Iron Wind Metals
I have some very big news for everyone today, and I'll be posting about it all week. There's a lot to say, and it's going to take me some time to say it...

The background to this post is that I've been suffering all week from some sort of 'mystery inflammation' of the left foot, and as a result I've been unable to walk for most of the week. I've had several days of bed rest, which has helped with the absurd swelling, and lots of whining and grumbling to my poor Missus - I am not a good patient, and never have been; I'm still amazed she's put up with me for the past twenty-five years...

So, I have been feeling pretty miserable and quite sorry for myself, and in a pretty low mood; morale has been at rock bottom. So, when The Missus told me that "There's a package for you from Iron Wind!," I was both amazed and delighted. I'd had a good time hanging out with their people at Gary Con, and I'd told them just how much I'd loved their old Ral Partha figures over the years.

So, I opened the package, and saw some little bags of figures...

You may want to have this playing in the background as you read further:


The guys at Iron Wind have sent me some dozen sample figures from their new Kickstarter. They are, in what's for me an awesome development, bringing back the Ral Partha brand name and the back list of the miniatures lines. I will have a ton more on this posted as quickly as I can for everyone, but I want to run that past all of you once again:

Ral Partha is coming back.

I will be posting the information I got from them on this development over the next few days - there's a lot to say, and I can only type so fast. We are, over the next few years, looking at over 1700 classic figures being re-released; if the samples I have - and which I'll show you in photos as fast as I can - are any indication, we are in for an amazing time.

Figure quality is crisp and clear, no mold lines, no faults, no nothing to complain about. These are vintage Tom Meier sculpts from the late 1970s, and they stand up very, very well alongside our current generation of great sculptors.

Please, oh please, don't take just my word for all of this! Please have a look at the new Ral Partha website:


And the Iron Wind site, as well, for the latest news about the "Chaos Wars" Kickstarter:


As an old miniatures guy, I am beside myself with delight over this news, and I'm having to take really deep breaths and concentrate on typing. I'll have a lot more to say in my posts over the next few days about this, too; right now, I am just delighted that an old friend that I had thought long lost has returned. I will try to tell you how happy I am, and just how pleased - just give me a little time to catch my breath, please!

[And a very polite note: It turns out that some of the guys at Iron Wind know who I am, and - to my astonishment! - follow this little effort in blogging of mine. They have, to my humble amazement, put a link on their new site to this blog; I think I may faint. I think of myself as a guy who loves miniatures and miniatures gaming, and this is simply amazing that they'd do this. Thank you, guys!!!]
 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Weekly Update For Sunday, April 19th, 2015 - Exciting Developments And Deliveries!

Sneak Peek courtesy of Iron Wind Metals

It's been a pretty exciting week, here at The Workbench! No, I am not writing the new role-playing game of how the current miniatures hobby works - "Developments and Deliveries - 'D & D', for short; catchy, and it might catch on - is the exciting game of playing the roles of sculptors, casters, and painters in the fast-paced environment of the table-top miniatures hobby."

Nope, not that. Instead, I offer the following news items for your delectation:

First off, the great folks at Iron Wind Metals are full-steam ahead with the relaunch of their classic miniatures game. They will be at Cinncy-Con in Ohio - their local convention - doing a huge game to mark the event, and I hope to get photos here to show you. This will be, I gather, a 'tableshaker' in the classic Little Tin Soldier Shoppe mode, with a table fourteen feet long and over 1100 figures on the table; the game is designed to be played by lots and lots of people. all of whom can drop in and out of the game as their time and schedules permit. It'll be 'Braunstein meets Chaos Wars', and I wish I could be there!

I'll have a lot more on this project in the next two weeks. For an old Ral Partha customer - about half the figures we used out at Phil's in the original Thursday Night Group were by Ral Partha - this is like coming home after a long trip - lots of old friends are coming back, and I'm really pleased!!!

Secondly, I am very pleased and delighted to be able to report that all of the figures from the 'Ancient Egyptian Civillian' Indiegogo by Dr. Mike Burns - he of Dark Fable Miniatures - have arrived, in a small and heavy box.

These are great figures; very crisply cast, very nicely posed by the sculptors, and very welcome here at The Workbench. These 'civilian' figures go very nicely with the 'military' figures that Howard Fielding and The Tekumel Project offer, and really open up my game horizons. We've had a lot of very fun adventures in our games, where the serving girls and fan-bearer guys formed the 'animated scenery' to exciting chases in palaces and clan houses; this sort of thing used to be a feature of games at the Professor's, to the point where I was genuinely surprised that anyone invited us player-characters to their parties...

I have now gotten all of these figures based and primed, and I'll get some photos of them shot this week - assuming the rain holds off for a bit! - and posted her and on my Photobucket page for everyone.

And yes, I ordered extra sets of the two children, too. A wise player-character in Phil's campaign carried a sweet or a copper for the local urchin, who was usually a better source of information then anyone else was. Aside from that old retired scribe in the marketplace, that is - old Firu ba Yeker, of the Clan of the Uttermost Secret...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's That Time Of The Year - April 14th, 1912

The US Coast Guard was created because of this.

The house flag of the White Star Line is up on the flagpole again; it's my custom to hoist it every year at this time in memory of all those who were lost on that cold night in 1912.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Weekly Update For Sunday, April 12th, 2015 - All Sorts Of News, and We Survived An Adventure!




Yes, it's a hole big enough to put your hand through.

And yes, the sidewall failed in two places. At freeway speed.

There has been all sorts of big news from Tekumel this week, as well as The Missus and I surviving a nasty tire failure on a trip. Let's just dive in, shall we?

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The Big News This Week for Tekumel in general has been the new game / interactive novel by From Choice of Games, LLC: "Choice of the Petal Throne". Please have a look at their website:


I've been watching this project develop over the past four years, and I'm delighted to see it finally coming to market. What makes this a really cool thing for Tekumel is that it's a 124,000 word novel done as an interactive game - and you can play it on any modern platform, including your smart phone. (Technical details on the site, of course!) This is a revolution if how we approach Tekumel - by expanding from the long-time base of 'pen-and-paper RPGs' out into more of a mass market audience, Tekumel will reach a lot more people. I think this is A Good Thing!

It turns out that The Missus and I are getting a very nice tax return, this year, and she's now talking about doing a computer upgrade so that we can get and run this game. Our fleet of old Macs won't do it, and this game seems to her to be a good time to make the change to new and more modern machines. I'll have more on this game, as soon as I read the first chapters - they are up on the game's website!

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Mike Burns, he of Dark Fable Miniatures, dropped us a line to let us know that he and his molders / casters, Griffith Molds, are finally caught up with the demand for figures from Mike's most recent Indiegogo campaign, and that the figures are now off in the mail to everyone who had made larger and more customized orders. (Link to his site in the left-hand column.)

One of the reasons that this line has been so popular is that mike has figures that you simply can't get anywhere else. I ordered extras of the 'Ancient Egyptian Children' set, as you never have enough urchines lurking about the market place or Good Clan-Children populating the clan-house. In the kinds of games that I run, these little non-player characters are some of the best sources of information and rumors to be had; likewise, the serving girls, fan-bearers, and palace staff are the 'mobile scenery' that make our adventures in domestic affairs so memorable.

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I am also pleased to announce a nice new website by a very nice lady in the UK, who is doing some very cool things with some very cool products. Anne is a great person and enjoys a very good reputation for her service and products. May I suggest having a look at her website?


The 'Arab Village Deal', in the Miniatures / Buildings section of the Shop, looks particularly tasty; I shall have to talk to The Missus to see if we can't budget for this set...

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The big push for me, this week, will be getting everything ready and out to players for the upcoming campaign away up on the Northwest Frontier. I will be sending e-mails out to those who have e-mailed me; if you haven't done so yet, and if you want in on this, please e-mail me. Thanks!

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One of the nice 'add-on' effects of both the announcements of games from Uni Games and Choice of Games is that there is finally some forward motion on some of the projects that the Tekumel Foundation has been working on for the past four or five years. The Foundation finally has some revenue to work with, and put into their projects - hurrah!!! Please have a look at their blog, when you can, for updates and announcements; there's a link to there over in the left-hand column for you.

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The Missus and I took a trip 'up north' to Lake Vermillion to visit her parents yesterday, as it was her dad's eightieth birthday. We had a wonderful time; lots of the relatives showed up, the food was great - I had a hunk of walleye the size of my forearm! - and the cake was very tasty. We had planned on coming back last night, but, we had an adventure...

The left front tire, as you can see from the photos, failed quite spectacularly and at speed late last night just north of Cloquet, Minnesota (The Home Of The World's Only Frank Lloyd Gas Station - it's something to see; what you'd expect a 'gas station of the Ancients' to look like in Phil's campaign) and we wound up spending the night in a motel waiting for the tire place to open this morning. The trusty old van now has two new tires on the front end, and we're home safe.

Whew!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Third Gary Con Report - Building A Convention Game

Marvelous picture by Kevin, showing the scene of the action


Less marvelous picture by me, of the game-ready table

Marvelous picture by chgowiz, showing the Expert Guide and his map

I promised all of you a post on how I design my games, and I hope this will help; please do feel free to ask me any questions - there will be a post coming up with some of the ones that I got and my attempts at answers...

Back when I originally looked into going to Gary Con this year, I had not been planning on running any actual game sessions; I had mostly thought of going in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the publication of "Empire of the Petal Throne" by TSR, and doing mostly question-and-answer sessions for people. That's usually what happens when I surface from my Underground Secret Lair (the game room) and show my bright smiling face in public. I very rarely get out into the light of day, due mostly to my work schedule, and I wanted to be able to give people the 'biggest bang for their buck' - or, as we used to joke, 'the biggest Doomkill for your kaitar'...

Much to my surprise, I got asked by a reader of the Gary Con forum to run a game; I put in an event request, and Gary Con approved it. (And they weren't desperate for games, either.) So, now having booked the thing, I had to come up with something. Fast.

Convention games, whether miniatures or RPG sessions, have a few limitations and needs that games in a 'home campaign' don't. I believe that if one is doing a convention game, then one should do something that the gamer can't usually get at home or at his FLGS; my reflexes lean in the direction of doing something that's a little different and a lot more memorable then what normally goes on in gaming, even at Gary Con. (There are some pretty awesome events there, I can tell you!)

Now, for Tekumel we have a pretty limited selection of 'game-ready' adventures available. I don't count  "Nightmare Maze" as particularly 'game-ready', as the map is very hard to use; you are limited to "Tomb Complex of Nereshanbo" in the published works, and Phil's mighty Jakalla Underworld in the unpublished stuff. I happen to like "Tomb Complex", and I've run it a lot; the infamous Battle of the Stairway, in which the stairway scored a Total Party Kill, was one such. However, since it is the only published adventure, I thought I'd go with Jakalla because it's of the same vintage as EPT, and as such would - hopefully! - give that 1975 feel to the game.

And, to make it nicer from my perspective, I have the maps in digital format; The Missus had been working on a fully-interactive version of the Jakalla Underworld, where the GM could mouse over a room, click on it, and get the description of same in a sidebar on their screen. So, I had the thing available to use, and this led me to the notion of projecting the map up on the wall for people. My thought process on this comes from watching many, many RPG sessions in progress. Players trying to keep accurate maps of the underworld that they explore often lead to problems in game flow, and I really like to keep things moving as fast as I can - it's more fun for me, and more exciting for the players, I've found, to try to do things in as close to 'real time' as possible. So, I thought, bring one of my LCD projectors and provide the players a big 'tactical display' for them to use.

I also brought some of my vintage figures, as I thought that a) it might be fun for people to see and play with the original figures I did for our games out at Phil's in the late 1970s; b) it might be fun for people to see just how we used the figures in our games; and c) I like miniatures. I also brought my set of the wonderful 'cardboard heroes' for Tekumel done by Uni Games, and which are very light and portable. I also brought my sets of IKEA wooden blocks, in honor of that game where we fought in the palace of Bassa, King of the Black Ssu; I used the blocks I had back then in 1977 when we fought out that game session...

I have been given to understand that 'pre-generated characters' are the norm for convention games, these days, and while I normally don't like the notion I thought that most folks would not want to spend game time on rolling up stats. So, I generated 12 men and 6 women as 'starter' third-level people, and left the skills and spells blank for the players to fill in and surprise me. (They did, too.) I did toss in some goodies, as the Jakalla Underword is a killer if you're not prepared for it. I wanted these players to  have a good time, and hopefully survive.

In my usual 'Braunstein' tradition, I put all the PC sheets in nice big envelopes; I put the PCs name, occupation, and a picture of them on the outside, and this would be all that the players had to go on - they would be picking their PCs 'blind'. I also included a color ID badge for all the PCs, so that we could all tell who was who at the table, and a special one-off gift ('swag', it's called) to mark the 40th anniversary of EPT and Gary Con.

As the players arrived at the table, the pre-registered players got first choice on the PCs, then everybody else. Katie, being the lady present, got her choice first as well. At the stroke of 7:00 p.m., everyone opened their envelopes and I then gave them a half hour to get everything organized. They did, and as I reported earlier, we were off and running.

I had the fight of my career. It was incredible.

One thing I would do differently, if I did this again; I would not use the LCD projector, as it's impossible to really control the lighting in the room. I would have liked to have an active display, like an LCD TV / monitor, and I now have this in hand - The Missus has invested in both a massive 40" unit for the game room - it's HUGE!!! - and a very portable - I can lift it by myself - 32" unit for traveling with.

Have I mentioned just how much I appreciate The Missus?

So, there we are. Questions? Comments?


Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Weekly Update For Sunday, April 5th, 2014 - A Pause In The Reports

Gary Con's RPG room; my table is on the right. Astonishing photo by Kevin McColl


I am taking a short pause from the series of posts on Gary Con; they will continue in the next few days. I'll be talking about how I design RPG games, which may be of some interest; as always, your comments and questions are always welcome!

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Mile Burns, he of the 'Ancient Egyptian' figures, has advised that there is a delay in shipping orders; demand for his figures has been so high, that he's having to restock the more popular sets. He's also been delayed by the untimely passing of Stewart Griffith of Griffith Casting, Mike's mold-maker and caster. I've seen photos from people who have gotten their (smaller) orders - these figures are well worth waiting for!

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One of the hottest news items from Gary Con came from Iron Wind, the company that took over the molds and miniatures when Ral Partha closed up shop. Iron Wind announced the relaunch of the 'Chaos Wars' line of classic miniatures, and I am delighted; I used to use many of these figures in our games out at the Professor's, and I am looking forward to having these figures back in production. have a look at their site for details:


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I am still unpacking from the convention, so things are a little slow around the Workbench. I am, delighted to be able to report, though, that one of my 'operational' problems at the convention - less then optimal lighting conditions for my LCD projectors - has now been solved. I really needed an active digital display for my game, rather then a projector, and I now have one! I found a Sony 40' LCD flat-screen at one of my favorite surplus places, for an absurdly small sum, and it is now installed in the game room for the amazement and delight of my players. The equally wide-screen Sony 40" WEGA digital unit has now been freed up for use, and I guess I'll have to build a crate for it. Casters will be a must, of course!

Lots more to come! Watch this space!

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Second Gary Con Report - The Price Of Happiness

Bill Hoyt, Mike Mornard, Maj. David Wesely, and Yours Truly at the game


The Dice Box, the Player Envelopes, wooden blocks, and cardboard heroes

First off, I'd like to thank Michael and Kevin for the photos they took of the game set-up and play at the convention - it was very helpful of you to do so, and I appreciate you doing it. I like to document everything, for future use, but I can't be in two places at the same time; so, hats off to you gents who took photos and made recordings!!! Thank you, all of you!!!

Secondly, I now have all of my own photos up on my Photobucket page for your amusement; scroll down the left-hand column, and you'll find the link to it. Have a look, and I hope you'll be amused!

I've been asked about what it took to put this game on, and in the next few posts I'll try to address that for you. To start with, The Missus and I set a strict budget for the show; she and I have had a lot of experience doing show production over the years, and for us this is a natural process. Here's the basic numbers for what the show 'should cost':

Badge:       $50.00          (No, I was not a VIP with a free badge. I wanted to support the convention.)
Hotel:      $200.00
Fuel:        $150.00
Food:       $100.00
total:        $500.00

This budget changed over time, as we went into the 'build cycle'; one of my friends was kind enough to share hotel costs with me, and this savings went into printing the player-character sheets and other 'swag'. We were also able to save in other areas, like food, that allowed us to buy a new and more powerful Digital Voice Recorder that had 44 hours of recording time and plenty of tape for the back-up recording.

As you can see from Kevin's excellent photo, I had gotten 25 black envelopes to put all the sheets and stuff for the players into; the covers had black-and-white artwork of the character, their name, and their occupation; this was all the players had to go on when they chose their characters. I also included an ID badge with the same information but with color artwork, so everyone could see who everybody was at the table. I was delighted to see that several enterprising players made little 'table tents' with their names on them for the use of their fellow players - which also should have warned me just how really good these people were!

Everything else came out of inventory / stocks; the figures, the wooden blocks, the wonderful 'cardboard heroes' that Uni Games (Jeff and Amanda Dee) makes, and all the technical gear. This was a real help to us, and we were able to bring the show in under budget with the kind help of people who made sure to feed me during the weekend - I get so wrapped up in doing the game that I usually forget to eat. The basic 'cost per player' to me, if you like those kinds of numbers, was on the order of $31.16 a head; I think I got my money's worth, given the reactions I got from the players.

Next up: How I set up and organize a game like this...