Monday, July 28, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - Part The Fourth - July 28th, 2014 (Game Aids - 1)

Laser Pointers
(The red one shoots a beam up as well as out)
Sand glasses
(Each has a different time that it take for the sand to run out)

(Templates are your friend - they make things easier and faster)

Rulers, Tape Measures, and Oversized Dice
(All with larger numbers to make them easier to read from across the table

And we're back in Braunstein, with a selection of the various game aids I use to help make my job as GM / referree easier, and to enable the players to have a good time. The lasers (and the periscopes) solve 'line of sight' / "Can I see this?" questions very quickly; the one that shoots the beam up vertical things is especially useful. Many of the laser pointers also have little LED flashlights in them, which are very useful for showing players what their figures can see if they are in the dark - think 'Create Light' spell in a can, here.

The sand glasses are very useful in keeping track of the game turn - I announce that the move has started, and turn over the sand glass. The players have to move their figures inside this time period, and the sweat factor really starts to build; no time for dithering - you have to be very decisive!

I usually specify spell effects in terms of one or another of the templates. This makes evaluating the effects very simple, and the player gets a very good idea of what they can do with their sorcery. Quick, fast, and simple - my continuing mantra.

Rulers and large dice make it easy to move - the red ruler in the center is actually a flexible one, so one does not have to guess at the length of a curved move. I like to get my tape measures with both 'English' and metric measurements on them - it's more handy that way, as we can handle any set of rules we're using that way.

And the periscopes? Not my idea! These were suggested to be by this amazing website, about colonial skirmish gaming, and it has the instructions for making the periscopes as well:

I do strongly advise having a look at the Major-general's website, if you want to know about Braunsteins - it's where we come from...

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...)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - Part The Second, For July 17th, 2014 - Science Or Screenplay?

What happens when the boat gets stuck...

Right, then. Here's the second part of my little essay on how I run my games for you...

Let's continue to use my game from last June as our example, if you don't mind. We've made some decisions: 120" x 60" table, six or more players, four to six 'factions'. Where do we go from here?

For me, the next step is to fill that big empty table. You want the thing to look good to passer-by, you want lots of cover for people to hide in - and use 'hidden movement' - and behind, you want something tactically challenging, and you want something that has some hidden traps and tricks to keep the players on their toes. In effect, the table itself becomes a 'non-player character'.

Well, I wanted this game to be set in Prof. Barker's world-setting of Tekumel, and that gave me all sorts of ideas for the table. I used the two large ground sheets I had made for another game, which are an island chain set amongst shallows, reefs, and a whacking big Whirlpool Of Doom. I added my collection of cheap jungle plants - made from materials I got at the local crafts stores on special - and added my set of 'native huts' to make the locals' village. This latter is a specific war game item, from the firm of Hudson and Allan, which I got for cheap from my FLGS when they had a sale - French and Indian War items didn't sell well, apparently. Rickety rope bridges, narrow piers, and all sorts of Dire Perils lifted whole from the old Republic serials added to the atmosphere and the the potential for fun.

(A quick note: the ground sheets are painters' drop cloths from the DIY store; they come in various huge sizes - this pair are 9' x 12' - that's right: feet! - and cost about a tenth the price of regular clooth yard goods. Plus, they are already hemmed up, are made of a very sturdy canvas, and are very easy to paint. Me, I use my old reliable Thayer and Chandler Model E airbrush, but then I am also just odd that way; you can use a roller or brush, and it'll be fine!)

The crowning glory of this whole menagerie are the two cheap faux-Mayan Temple bookends I got as  a gift from Dave Arneson many years ago, and which have been doing duty as the Mysterious Lost temple ever since. Photos of all this are on my Photobucket page, by the way.

So, we have the table; now for the players in our version of a stage production!

As I mentioned, I wanted something like six factions, at least one of which could be expanded to allow for more players:. So, here are the player sheets for the game, with the text common to all sheets first:

"Saving Serqu's Sisters"

A Classic 'Braunstein'-Style Game From The 1970s, And The Forerunner Of Role-Playing Games

The Situation:
The two lovely - but, it has to be said, slightly ditzy - twin sisters of the famous General Serqu, Sword of the Empire have taken a sea voyage and been shipwrecked on the jungle coast infested by the implacably hostile amphibian non-humans, the Hlutrgu. Unless rescued pretty dang quickly, the twins face a horrible death at the webbed hands and feet of the Hlutrgu.

Each player 'faction' or 'team' gets one of these:

You are:
The Hlutrgu - amphibian non-humans, implacably hostile to everybody else on the planet. Noted for extreme inventiveness when killing anyone they don't like, which is everyone besides themselves.

You have miniatures:
Lots and lots and lots of Hlutrgu warriors, and one Shaman who can cast a powerful spell (uses flame weapon template) once every four turns.

You also have:
Lots and lots of coracles, the hide boats made from the hides of everyone that the Hlutrgu don't like - which is everyone, actually.

Your goal is:
1. Find the castaways, take them back to your village, and cook them for dinner.
2. Kill everyone else you possibly can.

Your figures move each turn:
12 inches per turn, regardless of terrain type
Your ships or boats move each turn:  12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: four
Your Attack factor is: six

You are:
The Temple Guards from the Temple of Serqu's war god, Lord Karakan

You have miniatures:
A dozen human guards in red and gold armor, and several magic users who can cast spells; use long template for ranged spells.

You also have:
One small sailing ship, one longboat; name them yourself.
A pile of gold for bribing your fellow players.

Your goal is:
1. Find the castaways, take them back to your temple, and collect the reward.
2. Prevent everyone else from rescuing the castaways.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in open terrain, 6" per turn in all other terrain, 4" per turn swimming
Your ships or boats move each turn: 12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: twelve
Your Attack factor is: fourteen

You are:

Mercenary soldiers and guards hired by the twins' husband, General Korumne.

You have miniatures:
About two dozen human guards in armor, and several magic users who can cast spells; use long template for ranged spells.

You also have:
Three small sailing ships; name them yourself.
A pile of gold for bribing your fellow players.

Your goal is:
1. Find the castaways, take them back to your employer, and collect the reward.
2. Prevent everyone else from rescuing the castaways.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in open terrain, 6" per turn in all other terrain, 4" per turn swimming
Your ships or boats move each turn: 12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: twelve
Your Attack factor is: fourteen; bows have at attack factor of six, range 24"

You are:
Mercenary Ahoggya non-human soldiers and guards who need the money

You have miniatures:
About two dozen Ahoggya, some in armor

You also have:
Two hired galleys, Dreadnought and Fearless

Your goal is:

1. Find the castaways, and collect the reward.
2. Prevent everyone else from rescuing the castaways.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in all terrain, 6" per turn swimming
Your ships or boats move each turn: 12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: sixteen
Your Attack factor is: sixteen; crossbows have at attack factor of eight, range 24"

You are:
Honest seafaring merchants. No, really! There are no pirates on this coast! Really!

You have miniatures:
About two dozen human pirates, and several magic users who can cast spells; use long template for ranged spells.

You also have:
One small sailing rowing ship, the Lady Carolyn's Revenge
A pile of gold for bribing your fellow players.

Your goal is:
1. Find the castaways, and collect the reward.
2. Prevent everyone else from rescuing the castaways.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in open terrain, 6" per turn in all other terrain, 4" per turn swimming
Your ships or boats move each turn: 12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: eight
Your Attack factor is: ten; pistol crossbows have an attack factor of six, range 12"

You are:
Temple guards from the Temple of Dilinala, hired by the twins' mother

You have miniatures:
About two dozen human guards in armor, and several magic users who can cast spells; use long template for ranged spells.

You also have:
One sailing ship; make up your own name
A pile of gold for bribing your fellow players.

Your goal is:
1. Find the castaways, take them back to your temple, and collect the reward.
2. Prevent everyone else from rescuing the castaways.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in open terrain, 6" per turn in all other terrain, 4" per turn swimming
Your ships or boats move each turn: 12 inches per turn

Your Armor class is: twelve
Your Attack factor is: fourteen; bows have an attack factor of six, range 24"

You are:
The twins.

You have miniatures:
The two of you.

You also have:
An Eye of Raging Power - uses missile template
A pile of gems for bribing your fellow players.

Your goal is:
1. Don't get killed.
2. Get rescued.

Your figures move each turn:
12" per turn in open terrain, 6" per turn in all other terrain, 4" per turn swimming

Your ships or boats move each turn:
None; you do have six lettered chits for concealed movement so you can hide.

Your Armor class is: zero
Your Attack factor is: four; your Eye kills everything in the template


And there we are - our players on our stage. Take some time to digest all this, and I'll be back next time to explain where all these numbers come from...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Essay On The Braunstein - Part The First, For July 15th, 2014 - Art or Science?

Braunstein meets the Petal Throne - the usual chaos

I was markedly cheered up by an e-mailed request from a reader; it's a wonderful change from the sort of 'current events' news that I am being inundated with, and I thought I'd have a run at answering the request - this will be a long post, and there will be follow-up posts coming as well. So, anyway:

[A reader from The Big Easy e-mailed:]

I started looking over your blog and watching some of the videos from your games. Right now, I'm not so much looking for info about the nitty-gritty mechanics ( though  love that stuff too), I'm more looking for advice and info on planning one of these big table, multi player games. No one has written much about that stuff. It really seems more art than science ( which I'm down with!).

Any chance you could write a blogpost about that stuff?

Well, I think you are right; the Braunstein style of game -for an overview of which please see:

- may very well be more art then science, but let me make a stab at giving you some information on how I practice the arcane art.

First off, the game is based in whatever world-setting or period you like. It's completely open; pick what you like, and run with it. (I happen to prefer Barsoom or Tekumel, but that's a personal choice.)

Next, think about how many players you'd like to have at the table. Braunsteins are a cross between free Kreigspiels and poker games, so having more then two players is a must. Each potential player gets to play a 'side' - in these games, there are a lot of different factions, all with their own goals and objectives. The more the merrier; I have found that six 'sides' seems to work well, and one can have multiple players on a side - for even more fun and mayhem, give the individuals on a 'side' or 'team' goals and objectives of their own. The idea is to give players a chance to work for and against each other, so give them reasons to negotiate and ally as much as possible.

Think about how long you have to play the game - this is actually really important! I am lucky that I have a dedicated game room, where I can leave games set up for as long as we need to, but you will probably not have that luxury. So, think about how fast you want the thing to go - and I should also say that the faster and more furious the game, the better it is for everyone to play and to run! Players who get rushed often make the funniest mistakes and decisions, which simulate the confusion you find in the real world quite nicely!

Consider what size table you are willing to deal with. I have a 48" x 48" table always set in the game room, which uses my modular terrain system; I also have three 30" x 60" folding tables, and I use these to make a 60" x 60" or 60" x 90" table. Larger tables are not always better, by the way; if you do not have the players or the factions to use the space, it gets wasted and ignored. My largest games happen on a 60" x 120" table, which seems to be the biggest useful size; my June 2013 game was done on this size of a table.

If I may, I'd like to offer a sort of table of 'Suggested Table Sizes for Players":

Four to six players:  48" x 48"
Four to six players:  60" x 60"

Four to eight players:  60" x 90"
Four to eight players:  60" x 120"

Six to twelve players:  60" x 120"

So, having got the size and shape of the game thought about, let's move on to structure.

The idea is to get the players scheming and plotting, as a big chunk of the fun of the Braunstein is having the players negotiate and deal with each other. Let's take an example, my "Saving Serqu's Sisters" game...

The one common goal for all of the players is to find the two sisters / McGuffins; each 'side' has different goals for wanting to find them, mostly involving a hefty ransom. This gives one source of conflict and negotiation; we add more to the mix to keep things lively. Let's assume that we have six players; we write up short and simple little notes for each, telling the players what they have 'on the table', and what their goals and objectives are. In the case of this particular game, I had four 'teams' of mercenaries out looking for the girls, and one large 'team' of locals who were not keen on having the visitors get all the money. The idea of having this large team was to be able to add more players to the game if more showed up; at the actual event this team had four players, for something like ten people playing around the table - some of the mercenaries 'doubled up', with more experienced players helping less-experienced ones.

Everyone has, more or less,  the same goals: Get as much loot as you can. Keep everyone else from getting it. In addition, I also specified who liked and didn't like who, as a guide to alliances and hostilities. The large team was made up of some of Tekumel's vast collection of hostile non-humans, who had the goal of killing as many humans as possible; the humans, as one might guess, then got the additional goal of not getting killed by them.

Set things up to that the players have a reason to connive and plot; have one team allied with another, but hostile to a third. This is vital - use a large sheet of paper or a white board to plot this out, and you won't regret it.

Okay; that's the general plan. Next post, I'll look into the murky waters of more detailed planning...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Weekly Update For Sunday, July 13th, 2014 - Astonishing And Depressing Scandals From This Past Week

Ssu or Temple of Ksarul folks? The difference is crucial...

Well, I tell ya...

It has been a very depressing week, here at The Workbench. The health news is pretty good, better then we hoped for; I had a great check-up on Friday, for example.

What's got me down are two things:

First, the Internet thuggery by some folks regarding two of the consultants for the new D & D fifth edition.

Personally, I don't have an issue with either Zak S. or RPGPundit; they are certainly vocal, upfront, and abrasive to many. That does not excuse the allegations being made against them in several corners of the web, and I find those allegations both reprehensible and irresponsible. If anything, these allegations and accusations confirm my decision to spend a lot less time on the web; if this is what passes for discourse, you can count me out.

Secondly, the breaking scandal regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley.

You can find out all the ghastly details by doing a simple Google search, and so I will not go into the details here; I'd have to wash my computer afterwards, and I would prefer not to have to do that. For a fan / gamer of my generation, the news about her and her family comes as a real shock; she was one of the people we looked up to and admired, and to have this whole horrible mess surface is causing me to rethink a lot of my experiences in fandom over the years. Again, it confirms my desire to pack up the tent and walk away.

Now, I will say that there is good news, this week; Howard Fielding has announced the pre-release sale of the wonderful sculpts for the Tsolyani Legion of the Sapphire Kirtle, and I suggest having a look at his Tekumel Project website to see the pictures. Excellent figures, and i'll be getting my order for them in later this week.

Also in the good news category, Jeff Dee has posted on Google+ that he's moving right along with his "Bethorm" RPG, and I'm delighted to hear this. Bravo!!!

After an annoying moment when I realized that the Dell Desktop computer is too tall for the rolling stand that I had planned to use for it in the game room, I managed to build a new stand that it will fit on. The idea is to be able to offer 'virtual' games from the game room through the Google+ 'Hangout' feature; I've built the new stand so that the webcam we have will get a good view of the game table, and the stand itself is on casters so that it can move around as needed for miniatures or RPG sessions. It also has built-in power outlets and a twenty-five foot long power cable, so it can be a little rolling 'production truck' - the Internet connection is either wireless or off a fifty foot Cat Five cable - and so we can do a lot more for you with what we have.

I am really looking forward to being able to bring 'virtual visitors' into the game room; there is a lot less work for me involved, and I can present a better 'show' this way.

I think the future is bright, myself...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Oh, Chlen Poop!!! Technological Delays on a Saturday Morning - Saturday, July 12th, 2014

The Dell, in situ...

Well, chlen-poop!!!

I had been planning on trying out a test of the technology for the Google+ hangouts today, and I have spent a lovely morning getting the game room tidy, running cables, and generally being a nerd. I got all ready to move the Dell desktop that we use for video conference applications, when I discovered that the computer's CPU will not fit on the rolling stand that I had reserved for it. The box is just too tall, that's all.

Oh, chlen-poop.

"Delays, delays!" as Marvin the Martian is often heard to say.

So, out will come the tools, and we'll get the show on the road for you. More as the day goes on.

In the meantime, here's our matinee program for you:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Weekly Update for Sunday, July 6th, 2014 - Going Forward, And The New Shape Of Reality

Memo to self - have an acolyte dust the statue...
Here we are at the end of the holiday weekend; the High Holy Days of Convergence are almost over, and the hangovers are about to begin. I have had a great weekend - I don't go to Convergence, as having helped found the thing after the Great Purge of Minicon I thought that thirty years of doing conventions was enough. I simply don't get enough out of it to justify the time; I'm not into ball-joint dolls, anime, Magic the Gathering, corsets, Lolitas, body modification, latex French maid outfits (I just don't have the hips for it, sorry!), drinking to oblivion, or any of the hot topics of modern fandom.

Instead, I digested the news from the doctors about The Missus, and tried to think about how we move on from here. I have a lot of very hard choices to make, but the good news is that the process of Ditlana that I started several months ago is laying the groundwork for our future. I'll try to articulate where we are and where we're going in some more posts, later this week, but I'll try to give you a summary; I thought about this quite a lot, as I cleared out and painted the 'spare room' - it used to be Senior Daughter's room, before she left, and now it's going to be where we put up the new series of daughters when they visit as well as a place for the Missus if she can't make it up the stairs to our bedroom on the top floor of our little house.

First and foremost, this blog will continue; you will be able to follow our new adventures in Phil's world, and read about our old adventures 'back in the day'. I'll try to keep it current, with at least weekly updates, but I may not be able to answer your comments and e-mails within the twenty-four hours that I like to keep inside of. I am limited in my time, stamina, and energy, and with The Missus' health continuing to decline I am having to use more and more of all three to stay on top of the real-world situations that we're dealing with.

Thank you, in advance, for your patience!

I am moving very quickly to being able to do Google+ hangouts as well as Skype calls from the game room; the Dell computer that I used for these has just finished talking to my two daughters in Switzerland, and will be moving into the game room this week. If I can do it, you will be able to see a game in situ this coming Saturday, as I put our regular game session up on Google+; if you would like to play, or watch, please feel free to join us. I think that for me, this will become a regular feature; it brings you into my little corner of the world, and lets me tell you about Phil's. I have optimized the game room for the kind of gaming that I like to do and enjoy doing; I hope you'll find it entertaining and informative.

I will not be continuing to buy very many miniatures, going into the future; The Missus and I live on a fixed income, and the costs of her health care are going to take a major portion of our income. While we live very frugally, having simple tastes - because we're "dull and boring people" (to quote an Important Internet Person) - the money has to come from somewhere.

I will be continuing to support Howard Fielding and The Tekumel Project - I love his miniatures, and we can afford them. I will also be buying Jeff Dee's "Bethorm" and his other publications as they come out; I had a lot of fun when I played it with him and Amanda. I will buy other Tekumel publications if and when they appear. I will continue to support Mike Burns and his 'Dark Fable' line of Ancient Egyptian 'civilian' figures; I use these a lot, and they remind me of Phil. He would have loved them!

I will not be able to fund any external projects; the days of Chirine and The Missus being 'cash cows' are over. I will be maintaining things at the current level, but I will not be expanding many or our projects or activities. I will have the new website up and running as soon as we can; I will keep people posted on this as best as I can. This will be the proverbial 'labor of love' for me and the family; it's being done for fun, by people who knew Phil and Ambereen.

I will not be participating in more then a very few web forums; again, I do not have the time, stamina, or energy for it. I'm sorry if this offends or upsets you, but I have to do what I can when I can. I will be keeping the 'Blogs I'm Following' / 'People Worth Listening To' feature of this blog - I enjoy following the conversations of these folks, even when I can't participate.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Fourth of July - Barker Barbecues, The Rockets' Red Glare, And An Update on The Missus

This Old House, sorta...

It's the Fourth of July, and I hope everyone who has today as a holiday is enjoying the day off! Back in the days of the original Thursday Night Group, today would be the day we'd all troop out to see Phil and Ambereen at their house; we'd set up the grills, Ambereen would make her fabled Authentic Pakistani Stuffed Hamburgers (made from a secret family recipe, inscribed on an ancient scroll kept locked away in the vaults of the Royal Bank of Canada) and we'd stuff our little faces with a huge potluck meal.

On occasion, we'd be joined by The Other Group, Phil's Monday Nighters, and the lawn at the house on Elmwood Place would be graced by names like Kadarsha, Dori, Vrisa, Korunme, Kayalein, Origo, Kutume, Karim Missum. Eyloa, and Chirine.

When dusk fell, we'd get out the box of highly illegal fireworks from across the border, and have hours of fun setting things off for the amusement of the neighbors and ourselves; they were some very good times indeed...

Phil passed away two years ago, and Ambereen sold the house and moved to be with her extended family in California last year, but the old house still stands. Flip a burger, and think of all of us, if you like...


I'm amused, every year at this time, by the British Army manual for the Congreve Rocket, used to no little dramatic effect at Fort McHenry in Baltimore by the Royal Navy against those pesky colonials during the War of 1812 (fought largely in 1813, 1814, and 1815, with the biggest battle fought after the war was formally ended by the peace treaty) and used to even more dramatic effect by Francis Scott Key when he adapted a well-known drinking song into a national anthem for the new republic.

The manual states that the War Rocket is "... very effective against primitive tribes and Americans ...", which sums up the British attitude pretty well regarding us uncivilized types.

When we use our miniature Congreve rockets on the game table, the 'house rule' is to use those little plastic 'party poppers' that look like champaign bottles - you pull the string, there's a loud bang, and streamers shoot across the room. We've found that the wildly erratic devices provide a pretty darn good simulation of the equally erratic rockets, and it's fun as well.


Once again, The Missus and I would like to thank all of you who have called, text-messaged, e-mailed, and commented to send her your best wishes! She really appreciates your concern and kind words, and is feeling a bit more chipper today.

We saw the surgeon yesterday, and she'll be going in for the surgery in early August. After that, it's a week of radiation therapy, and watching the situation. The doctors are optimistic; with such early warning, and early treatment, they think she should be in pretty good shape going forward. We'll have to be careful, and prudent, but we have hope.

Thank you all, once again!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2nd, 1863 - An Update: The Pathology Report, and A Small History Lession

Originally owned by Sgt. C. B. Tirrell,
and worn on this day in 1863.

This morning, on a very hot and muggy July day south of the obscure little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, the First Minnesota Regiment of Volunteer Infantry mustered 262 men. In the course of the day, all those years ago, a gap opened up in the middle of the line of the Federal Army of the Potomac. General Cadmus Wilcox, leading a brigade of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, saw the gap open up and realized that he could - with immediate and resolute action - break through the Union line and quite possibly win the war for the Confederate States of America.

The most senior Federal on the spot, General Winfield Hancock, looked around him and saw that there was only one regiment of soldiers to hand; the attacking Confederate brigade had five such regiments. Horrified, Hancock cried out: "My God, are these all the men we have here?!?"

Hancock was called "The Superb" because of his justly-won reputation for skill and leadership on the battlefield, and he made the only decision that he could; he ordered the First Minnesota to charge into the on-rushing enemy and buy time for the Union command with their lives. Their counter-attack, spoiling attack, call it what you will, would buy precious minutes that would allow reinforcements to arrive and plug the gap in the line.

The First Minnesota fixed bayonets, and bought General Hancock and the Army of the Potomic those minutes - at, it has to be said, a terrible cost. At the regiment's muster call in the evening, at the end of the day's fighting, 47 men were all that were left to answer the roll call.

There's more of their story here:


The Missus got the pathology report back from her biopsy; it was not good news. The tissue sample was malignant.

She will be seeing the surgeon tomorrow, and they'll schedule the surgery then. Luckily, I have enough time off 'banked' so that I can be there for her; she was there for me when I had the surgery for my brain bleed, so I figure that I can be there for hers.

We've always been there for each other; we've been together now for some twenty-five years - half her entire life, actually, and almost half of mine. We will fight this. We will never, ever, give in, and we will prevail.

As we go forward, I may be a little slow in answering your e-mails and posts; I am sorry for that, but I can only plead that I have a finite limit to what I can do. I will keep this blog going, and try to tell you all the stories that I have to tell about Phil and his creation; it my just take a little longer then I had thought.

We will still be here. We just may not be as active as we formerly were.

Thanks again for your time and patience!

yours, chirine