Sunday, December 31, 2017

Death And Rebirth - The Weekly Update - Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Well, here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. I think, when it comes time to write the histories, that 2017 will be listed as The Year Everything Changed. I had some very good moments this past year, and some truly nasty ones. We have survived, and 2018 will be known as The Year Everything Was Reborn. There have been some pretty massive paradigm shifts around here, much like the one that happened when NewTek offered their revolutionary 'Video Toaster'; we're on the raw edge of a very similar revolution in the way we do things, and I think we'll be looking at a very different history in 365 days. With your indulgence, I'd like to run through the list of what's happening here at The Workbench:

'Remote gaming': We now have the technology in hand for multiple redundant telecommunications paths into the game room. I will be able to host multiple-player RPGs online, and run my campaign games the same way. Full duplex communications, with digtial recording and playback capability, and the ability to upload programming to the Internet for wider viewing.

'Campaign Gaming': I will no longer be doing 'one off' games here at the house. I will be running my campaign games instead, and these will generate the on-table activities. I am hoping to be able to run multiple campaigns, each set in the genres and world-settings I support; interested players will get the information that they can discover, and make their moves from there. Primary inputs will be by e-mail; output will be by Internet video teleconferences.

'Projects': I will be finishing my book, "To Serve The Petal Throne", this year, and players in the Tekumel campaign will be able to participate in the events in the book as it's my intention to illustrate the stories with photos of our vintage figures in game play. This will also lead to the completion of the second edition of my miniatures rules, which will also be profusely illustrated with photos, and which players in my campaigns will be able to play-test along with me.

'Miniatures': I will be 'combing out' the primary Tekumel collection of miniatures to remove any non-Tekumel figures added since 1988. These figures were originally purchased as 'stand-in' figures for items that were not available at the time or since, and have been made redundant by recent developments. In most cases, they will move over into the other genres and world-settings that I support; in a few cases, where they do not fit in with our current and future plans and objectives, they'll be removed from the collections, declared surplus to requirements, and disposed of. A similar process will be used in the scenic and terrain collections.

While this all sounds pretty drastic, we're simply recognizing the current realities of the game hobby. It is very difficult to get campaign-minded players here locally, so we're moving away from what we've had as a local emphasis to a much broader and wider one. People here in town generally have no idea who Dave and Gary were - let alone Phil! - and so we're moving our efforts into a universe where they are still remembered.

So, out with the Old Year, and in with the New! Happy Holiday, everyone! :)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Plastics? Metals? My Take - The Weekly Update - Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

My first plastics. OOP, I am pretty sure.

I'm hoping that everyone had a good holiday weekend; I had four days off, and I've spent them simply taking it easy, staying hydrated, and getting lots and lots of sleep. I have a slight head cold, but that's nothing to what I used to have to deal with.

Plastics or metals? There has been, I gather, some controversy over the relative merits of miniature figures made from both of these materials. Traditionally, it's been metal, as the overhead costs are very low, but the advent of computers and 3-mold milling has changed that. Costs are very different, and the economics of gaming very different as a result.

I've been doing metals since 1975, and got started in plastics almost by accident. Back in Ye Olden Days, the soft plastic 1/72 Airfix figures were all we had; keeping the paint on them was a no-win situation, and when I got my first Hinchcliffe metals I thought I was in heaven. Yes, you had to prime them, but after that the paint generally stayed on them. Metals have been a big part of my gaming life since then.

I originally got the Wargames Factory 'Amazons' as a gift, and didn't much like them. These were first-generation plastic 28mm figures, and I seriously wondered if the company had actually talked to any gamers before they designed the set. I managed to get them assembled, but used the weapons and shields provided as a source of spare parts - they just didn't look right to my eye with the stuff they had, and these figures really didn't come together for me until I gave them GW 'Tomb Kings' shields. After that, they looked a lot better, and I still use them in games today.

Fast forward to this past year, when I picked up the Victrix and Warlords figures I've written about. I really like these, right out of the box, and I think this is where plastics really shine - they provide somebody like me with the 'big battalions' that I like in my games, and at a very good price per figure. Let's face it - some 28s are now topping $10 a figure, and that's just too rich for my blood. So, plastics for the rank-and-file, and metals for the personalities and RPG figures (same thing, really) in my games.

One of the great things about the Victrix and Warlords figures, for me, anyway, is the ease of assembly and the 'spare parts' you have left over after you build 'em. I can always use spare heads, shields, weapons, and other stuff. It makes the rest of my model-building a whole lot easier, too.

And conversions! A lot easier, like with the old Wargames Factory 'Numidians', who can be used for anything. The older versions of the Warlord Roman sets had a couple of figures like this; two guys in scale armor, that I think were supposed to be used as a trumpeter and standard-bearer. I didn't use them that way - I used the guys in lorica, instead - but I think I'll take a cue from that epic film, "Cleopatra" (1963) and give them legionary helmets and drums, to replicate the drummers in the 'Attack on the Moon Gate' scene. As fas as I know, the Romans didn't use drummers, but Cine Cittia certainly did, so the conversion would help me get that proper epic look to my production.

Building the Moon Gate itself is another subject, for another post. I'll have to watch the finl and take notes. Lots and lots of notes...

Happy Holidays!!!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Col. Shoup, of NORAD
I'm hoping that everyone is having a good holday; we certainly are, and I have tomorrow off as well as today.

Oh, and the US Air Force officer? look him up on Google; he's a part of this holiday season, too... :)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New Arrivals; It's Christmas in December! Oh, Wait...

No, I'm not going to put it on a stand as a Martian war machine...

It's the winter solstice, and Christmas ( if you use the Gregorian calendar for such things, which I do not) came a little early today.

First, the miniatures from the latest Dark Fable Indiegogo have arrived! If you haven't seen them, you can still look in on the campaign page:

There was no possible way I was not going to get these figures; a constant thread of gaming out at Phil's was the presence of Anubis The Wonder Dog, Phil's elderly and convivial Black Labrador. Anubis was a delight, as he was polite and friendly, and always ready to be someone you could simply enjoy being with. His only fault, as has been related by the surviving gamers, was a case of flatulence that gave Phil the inspiration for the deadly spell The Creeping Fog Of Doom. So, the Temple of Qon will get new temple guards for their secret shrines in the Underworld, the Temple of Anubis in the 'Cleopatra' Braunstein will get a new squad of infantry, and some Roman legionaries will wish Caesar would get a new girlfriend.

The Scorpion Lord and his henchmen are also a delight; new adventurers, if ever I saw some. The genie, which The Missus instantly named Jeannie, is going to be a real challenge to paint; she's in two versions, one standing and one materializing. The latter has her forming from a plume of smoke - coming from her lamp, naturally, and I'm thinking I'm going to use the faithful old Thayer and Chandler Model 'A' airbrush to get the shading from her white plume of vapor to her skin tone.  I think that - if I can get her done right - she'll be the most spectacular figure I've ever done over the past forty years I've been painting.

The other - and very unexpected!!! - arrival is a high-end PolyComm audio teleconferencing unit. It works anywhere with any analog phone line, like you'd get from a hotel or convention center, or in most homes. It's very, very portable, and I never thought I'd ever be able to get one for less then the cost of a box of plastic miniatures. I am very, very happy to be able to bring distant friends into my games with a simple phone call - yes, I am fully aware that you can do games on the Internet, but the great thing about this unit is that it will work anywhere. And, what's important to me, it will work first time every time reliably with no fooling around, unreliable network connections, or having to have a full-time IT person on site.

This seems to be the year a lot of my dreams are coming true... :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Looking To The Future - The Essay Concluded

What the future was going to look like, once upon a time.

So, having gotten in my ration of grumpy-old-man-complains for the week, let's move on into a future that may never have been, or may not even be remembered...

I enjoy games. Building them, and running them. I'm not apologetic about it, it just is. It's my hobby - my obsession is model railways (the GWR, in OO, to be precise) - and I have been having a lot of fun in and with that hobby for over forty years. Despite the best efforts of a number of people, I'm going to stay in that hobby. And, going forward, I have a few things going for the future.

First and foremost, I'll be finishing "To Serve The Petal Throne" this coming year. It's been moving right a long, and I've been getting quite a lot of encouragement from people who have been discovering or rediscovering Phil's astounding creation.

Secondly, my emphasis in gaming will focus on what I do in my game room and sharing that with people via the Internet. The massively powerful video rack, which combines all of the diverse technology I've been building up for years into one very capable and flexible systems, will allow remote play by people in games. This will allow me to have a lot more depth and intrigue in my on-going campaign, and provide people with a look into how I game.

Backing this up will be the parallel writing of the second edition of my miniatures rules. The biggest change will be that it will be an electronic publication, so that I can illustrate it with photos of my miniatures; the video rack will also allow DVDs to be made, and I'm looking forward to adding this to my capabilities; you can have me there in your game room, without me rooting around in your fridge.

I'm going to continue building games, and rebuilding and updating old ones. The emphasis will be on the sheer visual effect of miniatures, combined with logistics considerations to make the games portable if that becomes useful. I will be making 'guest appearances' on occasion, out in public venues, and I will use our considerable resources to make these memorable for players and spectators.

That's the 'short form' of what's been developing hereabouts for the past couple of years. More to come, as I think of it, but I think that's what I have for now.

Thanks again for your time and patience!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Forty Years Wasted? The Essay Continues

First seen in a hotel stairwell in 1976

This will be a continuation of the previous two posts; and really does have something to do with gaming - at least, with my gaming...

First, the transportation news: The van had an electrical fault, and once again the guys at Fixt-Rite solved the problem with a couple of deft strokes with a crescent wrench. We get the van back tomorrow morning, if all goes well (knock wood!), the rental Jeep goes back to Enterprise, and we get the new car - the aforementioned VW Beetle - as a holiday present as funding has come through from a very unexpected source.

I was chatting with some old friends over dinner this past weekend when the latest episode in the "Star Wars" saga came up. Haven't seen any of these in quite a while, actually, and I was thinking about seeing this one when other influences intruded. Specifically, an article in the local daily paper about how politically correct this latest film is for having several strong female characters.

Well, all right. I can understand that. The saga has always had pretty powerful women in it. Yes, I know that Princess Leia's metal bikini is now considered to be Very Politically Incorrect, but when we saw the movie when it came out we all - both the men and women in our theater-going party - instantly knew that whomever or whatever idiot had put her in that outfit was going to suffer a nasty death at her hands in pretty short order. And so it happened; Jabba gets strangled with the chain, and we all cheered. The women on our party felt particularly empowered (to use a current word) as the chain went tight.

These days, we'd all have been tarred and feathered for having Politically Incorrect Thoughts. I'd probably be at the top of The List Of Those First Up Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes because I have to specifically stop and remember that that Lando was played by a black actor. It just didn't register with me; I was way too intent on following his character's problems and solutions to them.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, our definition of inclusiveness in gaming was "Anyone who wants to play, gets to play."

These days, forty years on since those days at Coffman Union and The Little Tin Soldier Shoppe, I don't feel particularly welcome in gaming. I am not au courant with the latest and hottest games on the market, I play with (Gasp!) miniatures in role-playing games, and I don't specifically select games, miniatures, and players according to their political correctness. I go with what provides people the most fun, and what provides me the most enjoyment for my hobby dollar.

I spent some sixty bucks a while back on some figures, and I thought that - at the suggestion of my daughter-in-residence - that it would be fun to paint them in hair colors suitable for the subject matter. She worked out the statistical distribution of hair colors in the human population in the given setting, and I had a lot of fun further refining the paint schemes to give more diversity; a number of my very diverse co-workers had an equal amount of fun 'posing' for their skin tones to appear on the figures, and we were able to match everyone pretty easily.

I was very proud of these figures, at least until I showed them to my daughter's then-current game group. I was, to paraphrase the conversation, taken to task for being a white male painting female figures in racially diverse skin tones; I had, apparently, no right to do so.


The figures never got finished; they are about 80% done and - in my opinion and that of others who have seen them - look pretty good as my paint jobs seem to improve with the amount of fun I'm having with the figures. The 'magic' / 'fun' / whatever you want to call it has now been drained from this particular project, and I fear I've wasted the Missus' money.

Going forward, I'm looking at this as the proverbial 'learning experience'. In the future, as we'll talk about in the next essay, I'll be building things and doing projects that I like, and which may not be approved by other people. There's also some changes coming to the Rules of Engagement to reflect this, too.

More to come, and thanks again for your time.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Year In Review and Preview, Continued

Cargo capacity, in action

Well, it's been a very long day here at The Workbench. The van is now in the shop, where the guys who have been looking after it for over a decade will - I hope - puzzle out what's wrong. We are home, with a mighty big Jeep thing as our rental; I feel like I should wear jodhpurs and a pith helmet, very time I look at it. We're both exhausted, and I'm looking forward to getting to bed in a bit.

Every year, about this time, I like to talk about what's been and what - I hope! - will be. Retiring the cargo van to stand-by status is part of this; we're not going to take the poor old thing (it's a 2002, by the way) outside of the local area any more. We did this early in the past year, and the long trip seems to have been the start of our current issues. So, no long trips unless we use a rental van; I've set everything in our inventory up for this kind of transportation, so we're in good shape if we do have to make a road trip to a convention.

This does lead to where I'm going with my gaming. The March trip was, and is, likely to be the last time the Missus and I try to do a long road trip; neither or us is in the best of health, and neither of us wants to try any long trips again. Local trips, up to an hour away from the house, are doable; longer trips, four to six hours, are possible with a lot of advance planning and are not gong to be undertaken lightly.

Which, we feel, is not all that severe an operational limitation. We have, as I've noted in these pages in the past, no real commercial or operational need to do conventions; since we've also been strongly discouraged from doing so by a number of diverse people and interests, we are going to limit ourselves to responding to any possible calls from some folks we know. Specifically, six people by the names of (in no particular order): Malia, Luke, Ernie, Elise, Cindy, and Heidi; I don't know Alex, so we'd have to talk.

Anybody else, you'd better have a budget and be damn well organized; I've been burned by too may people who screwed things up for themselves and for us, and tried out the excuse "If you'd wanted it organized perfectly, you should have done it yourself." Quite probably true, which is why I've gotten my side of the thing dialed in so that I can do events with little or no effort on my part, and I can do it all by myself; if I've learned one thing over the past forty-some years, is that the people who protest the most loudly that they'll be there to help are the ones most likely not to show up. (In fairness, the ones who tout themselves the least always show up and work the hardest.)

For the future, it'll be local events for me. I'm set up for them, I'm equipped for them, and I'm willing to do them. As for what they'll be, we're looking at the model of what we did for Free RPG Day as the usual thing, with the option of having a weekend 'micro-convention' further down the road. We've done this in the past, as we've noted, and we really liked the result. So, we'll go with what works, and play to our strengths.

Next up: The Nature Of Gaming, Hereabouts.

The Weekly Update - Monday, December 18th, 2017 - The Year In Review, And The Year In Preview

In happier days...

I have an very unexpected and very unwelcome vacation day today; the poor old van won't start. It just hangs there, with a couple of cylinders firing, but not enough to get it running. We have a AAA membership, which got the van running yesterday so I could get out and get the groceries, and we'll have to use it again today to get the van off to the shop and to pick up our rental car. The van, at 337,000 miles, is slated to be retired shortly; it'll be kept as a spare after we get the new VW Beetle that a friend wants to sell off.

So, I have a very busy day ahead, and things will be pretty hectic for the next few days. One of the unhappy side effects of the Missus' health issues is that she does not handle emergencies like this very well, so I have to be here to supervise matters. Luckily for me, I have over 230 hours of vacation time accrued, and my employers like to have me take the time when I can - I can 'max out' at 300 hours, so getting some time off helps everybody.

Oops! Tow truck's here! Be right back!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Weekly Update - Sunday, December 10th, 2017 - Unexpected Treasures

Photo of the box label

My usual FLGS has a big sale about this time of the year, basically to do inventory reduction, and they tend to offer pretty deep discounts on merchandise that has not been - shall we say? - 'a hot seller'. Normally, I stay away from the big shopping sprees because I don't like big and noisy crowds, but Fifth Daughter wanted to stop in and puck up her weekly ration of comic books. I browsed the back corners and the darker areas of the shelves, and came across two old boxes of plastic figures.

These are Wargames Factory 'Numidians', and are (I presume) no longer in production due to the excessively troubled history of the company. I tend to shy away from their products, firstly because I din't have any use for the vast majority of their product line, and secondly because the quality of their figures varies pretty wildly. I'd already gotten the very nice Victrix 'Numidians', so I wasn't all that willing to take a chance on these - unless the holiday sale discount could weaken my resolve, I wasn't going to get these.

I asked one of the store's people if I could neak a peek at what was in the box, and I would up grabbing both boxes on the spot. (Something like 56 figures, across both boxes.) Two things sold me on these: the castings actually looked pretty good - unlike the 'Republican Romans' from the same company, these had nice and crisp details - and the figures are a guy in a tunic. With a choice of arms, all with open hands.

Let me repeat that. A guy in a tunic, with open hands.

All of the weapons and accessories included in the box - and you get a heap of them, too! - are on separate sprues. So, these figures can be used for literally anything that I need for my games. Artillery crews, light infantry, palanquin bearers, townspeople, merchants, servants, family retainers, and that guy who pushes a broom around the hallways of the temple complex.

Here are some reviews, if you like:

I should also mention that there aer enough spare arms in this set to fix the Republcan Romans set that the store was nice enough to sell me after we found out that none of the right arm sprues had been packed in that set; so, these sets are even more useful, as far as I'm concerned. (The WF Romans are still 'mushy', in terms of their detail, but this is going to be better then just tossing them in the trash.)

Back in the day, both Phil and I used to go through piles and piles of John McEwan's very handy generic male and female figures; we were using them for all sorts of things like galley rowers, moving crews, and the like. (I went through fifty of them doing the rowers for the little dispatch galley I made for Phil out of a Heller kit, back in about 1982.) I love to get figures like this; most miniatures companies tend to shy away from them, as these kinds of figures don't have any real use in 'classically serious' wargames - you usually don't need a dozen Ancient Egyptian trumpet-blowers and fan-bearers on the game table, unless (like me) tou like doing parties at the palace or the triumphal entry of the player-characters after their latest victory. (See also Verdi's "Aida".)

As I've noted in these pages, you can get these sorts of figures from Mike Burns at Dark Fable, and Howard Fielding's Tekumel Project also has figures that do very nicely for my kind of games - priests and priestesses, for starters. You can also find useful figures in the Crocodile Games ranges; Foundry also used to have a lot of miniatures like this in their historical ranges, but I don't know if any of them are still available. I have a batch of treasured 'Macedonian Characters', which are guys in tunics with straw hats:

These lads have been in a great many games, mostly as those much-put-upon-fishermen who are always being 'persuaded' by the players to take them someplace in their boats. Foundry figures are hard - if not impossible - to get locally, so mail-order is probably the only way to go if you're in the US. Ral Partha also used to have a lot of these sorts of figures in their historical lines; I have a batch of trumpeters and fan-bearer for those 'sword and sandal' epics I love to put on. And, they are still available, too:

Miniatures like all of these are inspirations for adventures; both Phil and I used to come up with scenarios for wargames and adventures for RPGs based on some miniature we'd found in some obscure corner of the hobby - and I still find that kind of inspiration, as with these unexpected treasures from the back of the shelf...

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Weekly Update - Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 - Five Years On, And Where We Are

before The Incident

after The Incident

I happened to discover, entirely by accident, that Photobucket has cut the links to this blog, so that my posts of a certain age have been deleted from their original messages. I can replace some of them from the Google albums, and I'll see if I can't do that. With over five years of posts being affected, it may take a while.

Speaking of five years having gone by, it's been five years since The Incident. I was so busy moving jobs that I clean forgot to note the occasion, back in September. As you might guess, I am still alive, and in the human normal range, largely because of a number of pretty severe changes I made in my life. A lot of people who gave me a lot of stress and annoyance are now gone, likewise a lot of activities that cause me the same kind of annoyance have been left behind.

I find that I have little to no interest in playing games, any more. I think a lot of this is because I don't have the patience to sit quietly and listen to the other folks at the table talk over the situation in the game endlessly, over-thinking the most basic actions. I certainly don't mind them doing it for themselves, it's when I'm sitting there for literally hours waiting to do something that's the issue. I still enjoy running games for people; I had a great time at The Source's 'Free RPG Day', for example, and I'm enjoying introducing people to Tekumel in the current D&D 5e campaign at the same venue. For as long as somebody wants have me in to run games for them, I'll be happy to do it. People seem to enjoy what I do, and I enjoy doing it - so, I think, we have something going.

I am still enjoying building things ; we play-tested the floor plans of my palace, this past weekend, and it went well; the building 'works' as both a palace and as a model, so we'll get to gluing and cutting over the holidays. The 2' x 2' modular format worked very well, and the modules with fit through doors - which, as you might guess, is A Very Big Deal. The Missus is sourcing carpeting, TRE Games is doing the furniture, and I am a pretty happy camper over this project.

Along the way, I have been reducing my time spent on Internet forums, especially the ones that describe themselves as 'standard-bearers of the OSR'. I'm find that the discussions have very little to do with the kind of gaming that we did back in the late '70s and early '80s, and are usually so far away from what I know about and what I do that I have very little in common with most of the posters, and they have very little in common with me. So, I have wound down most of my on-line writing, and have put that time and energy into "To Serve The Petal Throne".

A lot of my model-building is also finding inspiration and grounding in the book and our adventures with Phil in his world. The palace project is a good example of that, as is the current painting projects that I'm doing. I'm happier and more productive, so I think we're on to a good thing.

So, life is good.

Oh, yeah; it's my birthday today; I am 61. :)